SCORERS: Kilmarnock - McKenzie 20; Hibernian - Haynes 56
The outcome was a source of frustration for manager Terry Butcher, whose belief that his players had been by far the better side was not universally shared by those present.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win the game, particularly after the way we dominated the second half,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was a lack of real goalscoring opportunities due to our final ball so there will be plenty of crossing and shooting for the boys next week.
“We lost a goal against the run of play in the first half and Hibs, in the past, would have wobbled and resorted to a long-ball game after that. However, we passed it well and the central midfielders, Sam Stanton and Tom Taiwo, were excellent. They gave us the platform to launch attack after attack but we weren’t getting quality balls into the box.
“We didn’t test Craig Samson in their goal. He hardly had a thing to do, when you look at it. We weren’t ruthless enough in the final third and this was a chance which went begging for us. I think we should have won this and gone above St Johnstone. But we’ve played worse than this and won and if we keep showing that passion and determination we’ll be fine.”
Hibs could, and probably should, have drawn first blood in the 11th minute when an Alex Harris free-kick found Paul Hanlon unmarked and six yards out, only for the defender to fluff his lines and send a glancing header wide of the far post. That profligacy came back to haunt them when the hosts took the lead from their first clear-cut opening eight minutes later.
Kris Boyd, normally Kilmarnock’s go-to guy for goals, was the architect on this occasion and he will have hit few better passes in his career than the one which set up Rory McKenzie here. From just inside his own half, his perfectly-weighted through-ball inside Ryan McGivern allowed the midfielder to latch on to it without checking his stride and he displayed great composure to pass the ball behind the advancing Ben Williams from 15 yards. It was McKenzie’s third goal of the campaign and he and fellow Academy graduate Craig Slater provided the fuel for Kilmarnock’s engine room.
The response from the visitors was lukewarm, at best. While the home side spread the play with panache, there was a distressing lack of verve and vision from Butcher’s midfield. Lone striker Danny Haynes was forced to chase more lost causes than a no-win-no-fee lawyer but Hibs’ hit-and-hope tactics did not bear fruit. Taiwo, who had failed to hit the target from distance during the first half, persisted with the ploy after the break, curling a shot wide from 25 yards.
Kilmarnock began the second period by sitting too deep and inviting their opponents to come at them but, when they broke, Jordan Forster earned the first yellow card of the contest when he brought down 17-year-old substitute Greg Kiltie.
The equaliser, when it arrived, came out of the blue.
There seemed little danger when Stanton gathered the ball on the right flank but he whipped in a cross and Haynes darted in front of Manuel Pascali to score his first goal since arriving on loan from Notts County.
Stung by that, Kilmarnock roused themselves and ought to have had a penalty when Michael Nelson barged Boyd off the ball. Referee Craig Thomson ignored the resulting appeals, to the disgust of the home support.
Taiwo became the second player to be cautioned when he also took out Greg Kiltie as the youngster burst past him but Stanton came close to giving Hibs the lead with a free-kick which beat Samson but clipped the top of his crossbar.
Boyd had a chance to win it ten minutes from time when a Mark O’Hara cross was missed by Nelson and landed at his feet. However, perhaps taken by surprise by the defender’s misjudgment, the predator’s instincts deserted him and a poor first touch saw the ball trundle into Williams’ arms.
Haynes, too, could have taken all three points for Hibs four minutes later but Pascali atoned for his dilatory defending earlier with a brave block to keep out the striker’s shot from point-blank range which gave his side a merited share of the spoils.
“I thought we were the better side in the first half,” said Killie manager Allan Johnston. “We passed the ball quite well and looked the better team. We didn’t start the second half well at all, though, and Hibs put us under a lot of pressure and deservedly scored their goal. But after that we came back into it and, probably, a draw was a fair result.”