Two goals from Martin Boyle gave Hibernian the early advantage but a spectacular strike from Chris Burke ensured Kilmarnock remained in this match right to the very end.
In a competitive affair, the home side were the more threatening in front of goal in the first half but relinquished control to their guests after the break.
The failure to put away more of those early chances will have frustrated Leith manager Jack Ross, but he was pleased that they showed the resolve to see out the game and claim an opening-day victory.
“That is something we have worked hard on because we didn’t do it enough last season. It’s pleasing that we were able to see out the game and limit them to few clear-cut opportunities,” said Ross.
“I think we had to show different qualities to win it. Our attacking threat was really good in the first half, we scored the two goals and could have had more. The goal before half-time changed the dynamic of the second half and we didn’t have any control of the game. Credit to Kilmarnock for that – they were good in the second half and forced us back, and made us defend resolutely.”
If things had changed on the pitch, off it things were also altered.
Five months after the last competitive match there was a return to action but the new-look game was decked out in face masks and watched by cut-out kangaroos.
The majority of seats were empty but those that were taken were draped with giant flags, advertisements or occupied by photos of fans. Courtesy of Hibs’ Australian fan club, there were also a couple of rows of giant marsupials.
Crowd noise was piped over the public address system in an attempt to normalise the experience but it failed to drown out the shouts of the players and coaches and with ill-timed roars coinciding with lulls in play and bread-and butter passes treated to the kind of cheers reserved for goals, it felt like watching a favourite foreign language film subjected to awful dubbing.
But there was still real pleasure in the game’s return. Fears that it may prove an anti-climax were dispelled as both teams found a decent tempo and intensity, with the home team particularly quick out the blocks.
Just five minutes into the match and aided by debutant Kevin Nisbet, who was able to drive through the middle before playing him in, Boyle gave Kilmarnock’s new goalkeeper Jake Eastwood a difficult introduction to the Scottish game. Perhaps unaware of the Hibs forward’s pace, he charged out of his box in an attempt to thwart further progress but Boyle switched on the thrusters, and rounded the flailing Killie newcomer before taking a moment to compose himself and sending an angled shot into the net.
In the 34th minute Boyle added a second. Scott Allan who took possession deep in his own half and scampered clear of a challenge. Driving into space, he had Nisbet to his left, Boyle to his right and having picked out the latter, Hibs were rewarded with another fine finish, this time Boyle drove a low shot through Calum Waters legs, across the face of Eastwood’s goal, tucking it just inside the far post.
Hibs were the team that looked more threatening in front of goal, but just as Killie had squandered the chance to open the scoring when Ross Millen’s cross flashed across goal, just evading Nicke Kabamba in a central position and Rory McKenzie at the back post, the Easter Road side had more chances through Boyle, Joe Newell and an Alex Gogic header.
“I was disappointed with the manner of the two goals we lost, said Rugby Park boss Alex Dyer. “The first one was a complete rush of blood from the young goalkeeper. It was a mistake but he is a good keeper and he will learn. That was not the reason I took him off at half-time. He had a problem with his quad and we will have to get it assessed. If he had been fully fit then he would have stayed on the pitch.”
That switch was made at the start of the second half and by that time Burke had provided a moment of beauty to ensure there was still everything to play for.
Just a minute before the interval, he oozed class as he launched a free-kick into the top left-hand corner of Ofir Marciano’s goal, staking an early claim for goal of the season.
But a more general impotence proved costly for the visitors as Hibs showed they have evolved from the side who threw away a 2-0 lead against Killie last season. Dyer’s team took control but couldn’t find a way through. It left them feeling slightly aggrieved. It left Hibs feeling optimistic about the campaign ahead.
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