In his first couple of games, Hibs managed to weather any storms and get themselves out the other side with all three points. But, yesterday, against a Kilmarnock side who only really started playing when the home side moved two goals in front, Jack Ross’s side succumbed to some old, bad habits.
Throwing away that two-goal cushion, Hibs’ players had to trot off the pitch having conceded a last-gasp equaliser. It was the kind of behaviour that hampered them earlier in the campaign.
Ross admitted he was frustrated but said there was no merit in dwelling on past issues, preferring instead to focus on how to do better as they look ahead to Wednesday’s trip to Dingwall.
“I’d been conscious not to pay attention to what’s gone before. The only thing I can affect is what’s happened since I took the job. But I’d been aware there had been that scenario,” said the Hibs manager about the team throwing away leads during Paul Heckingbottom’s reign.
“There can be reasons for it and I can only look at this game and that little last part of the game when we’d weathered the worst and decision-making cost us. People talk about bravery to play and we showed that but you need bravery to make those ugly decisions that win you matches.
“I’ve told the players there’s nothing we can do now to affect the last 90 seconds, it’s not about dwelling on it and it’s about affecting Wednesday.”
Hibs were extremely comfortable in the first half, camping out in the Kilmarnock half and applying the kind of pressure that forced errors from their guests. Their only disappointment as they headed in at half-time will have been the fact that they had not yet killed off the game.
They were one up, thanks to yet another Christian Doidge goal – after he out-jumped Killie keeper Laurentiu Branescu – but their play deserved more.
That goal was a perfect example of the insipid way the visitors had tackled the opening period. Rapid last weekend as they rattled three goals past Hearts to settle the match in the first 16 minutes, there was an air of lethargy as they struggled to get out the blocks against the other half of the capital yesterday.
Lacking zip, Killie were reactive rather proactive and failed to get the ball moving quickly enough to instigate any real threat going forward. The slow tempo to their play also rendered them easy prey for the home side, who closed them down and left them scrambling to make passes, forcing errors and easily turning over possession.
In such circumstances, the Easter Road side, who enjoyed the time and space needed to ease into their own rhythm, thrived. “It was a bad first half for us. I didn’t recognise my team,” said Killie boss Angelo Alessio.
“What had happened? It wasn’t good. The beginning of the second half started the same way then we played. It was another game for us. Of course we were lucky to score the last goal but this is football and before scoring we missed the opportunities with [Rory] McKenzie then [Liam] Millar, then [Chris] Burke.”
Two minutes after the break Jason Naismith scored a screamer from a tight angle and it seemed to shake the visitors out of their fog. But it was when Liam Millar came on, in the 60th minute, that the Ayrshire side started to make a contest of it.
Lively, he offered the side greater width and, running at the Hibs rearguard, there was invention and penetration in his play.
Killie’s first goal, on 66 minutes, was crucial in imbuing the players with the belief needed to take the battle into the dying seconds. Alex Bruce kick-started the comeback when Hibs failed to clear a corner headed on by Dario Del Fabro and he pounced to prod home.
With more ebb and flow to the game, the Leith side had chances to wrap it up but Stevie Mallan, from a free-kick and open play, and Martin Boyle showing some attacking intent, couldn’t find the net while Killie saw chances of their own go begging, as McKenzie’s flick was blocked by Chris Maxwell, Chris Burke narrowly failed to connect with a fizzed-in Millar ball, and then Millar hooked wide as he stretched to connect with a deep cross into the box from Stephen O’Donnell.
And with virtually the last kick of the ball, Killie were rewarded for their tenacity. This time Del Fabro was the man in the right place at the right time, with enough composure to damage Hibs. A free-kick in was cleared only as far as Bruce and he fired it back into the congested box, where the Italian swung at it and sent it past Maxwell to leave Hibs with a sense of deja-vu and the away fans with plenty to celebrate.