So much of this performance in Ayrshire was Hibs in microcosm this past month. Harried, without composure and disjointed, this was an afternoon in which they signed off for the World Cup break with ample food for thought. This loss was their sixth from their last seven games. The only blessing they can count is the inconsistency that has plagued so many of the teams around them, form which has prevented Hibs from being cut adrift from those challenging for that top six berth. Still, the spectre of Motherwell, Ross County and Kilmarnock who are all occupying spots at the wrong end of the table looms large now over Hibs.
In truth there was little between the sides apart from the ever so crucial goal, a penalty from Dan Armstrong after he had sent David Marshall the wrong way. Even that, though, seemed indicative of Hibs of late with the foul that led to the set-piece coming from a wrong decision as the Easter Road side continued with the theme of being architects of their own downfall.
Referee David Dickinson had originally blown for a free-kick, believing that the the clip from Marijan Cabraja on Liam Polworth – who had been going away from goal and along the byline – was outside the box. VAR’s intervention informed the official that the infringement had actually taken place just inside the box with Armstrong duly dispatching his eighth goal of the season.The decision was a rubbing of salt into Hibs’ wounds after they had been on the wrong side of a VAR first-half call when Mykola Kukharevych had been judged to be marginally offside when he received Elia Melksersn’s cutback. Viewing of the image alone would suggest the decision was marginal with the player, to the naked eye, looking level.
Still, It would be wrong to say there was no response from Hibs. Lee Johnson immediately went on the offensive after the loss of the goal, introducing Ewan Henderson and McKirdy and while there was some desperate, scrambled defending at times in Killie’s box there was little real sense of a leveller. Ryan Porteous had managed to flick on a long throw-in with Elias Melkerson producing an acrobatic bicycle kick while one of the last acts of Killie defender Jersiel Dorsett was to scoop a loose ball over his own bar as Kilmarnock threw everything and anything at green shirts inside the box as they fought to preserve the points.
Johnson was right to point to the players that the club have sidelined who will inject some quality into Hibs when they return to the first team, but the summation of this performance pointed to a side who looked bereft of confidence and and belief. They could not be faulted for endeavour against Kilmarnock, who got their goal and then protected the lead with some valiant defending, but it is clear that the recent run of form has left its mark on this Hibs side. Just how deeply it has scarred will be evidenced in the second half of the season as they seek to get themselves back onto solid ground.