Barnstorming doesn’t even cover the encounter that Kilmarnock and Hibernian served up yesterday. The roof was ripped right off.
Neil Lennon’s men should have been four up inside half an hour after taking a two-goal lead inside ten minutes. They should have then ended the afternoon on the end of a 4-2 defeat after being entirely overwhelmed by Steve Clarke’s indefatigable side.
Killie might have failed to rack up eight straight home wins for the first time since 1974 but they have now lost only once in 13 games.
An epic turnaround – which resulted in Kilmarnock having 20 goal attempts and Ofir Marciano denying them with three flying finger-tip stops – would have been enough in itself for the occasion to leave any watcher slack-jawed.
But with Hibs, there is always an added element provided by their combustible manager. Lennon’s touchpaper was lit by a wrong-headed penalty award from referee Kevin Clancy for Kilmarnock to draw level on the hour. The official deemed a clear ball-to-arm incident that occurred when a driven-in Alan Power effort hit the bent, tucked-in-to-his body arm of a lunging forward Ryan Porteous.
Kris Boyd succeeded in getting enough contact to clip in a rebound that followed his penalty being blocked by Marciano down to his right and, from there, a signal from the fourth official Gavin Ross resulted in Clancy coming to the touchline to banish Lennon to the stand. It led to an unseemly moment when Lennon mock-clapped in the face of Clancy before being led away, his anger having failed to subside in a post-match interview in which he railed against officialdom, Clancy and the state of the Rugby Park pitch.
The contrast with sober and sombre Clarke who appeared post-match could not have been more acute. He gilded the lily in claiming that his men were “the better team almost from start to finish” but that made his irritation at not completing a dramatic, winning turnaround no less understandable.
A remarkable take, in itself, from an encounter that Hibs led after only 28 seconds. A Lewis Stevenson shot that deflected off Gary Dicker into the path of Flo Kamberi allowed the striker to turn the ball past Jamie MacDonald. When the Kilmarnock backline then remained rooted as Porteous took to the air to meet a Scott Allan corner and net with the simplest of headers, it seemed that Hibs might go on the rampage.
Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren then passed up glorious opportunities when through on goal, before the home side suddenly came to life after half an hour. They remained utterly vibrant thereafter. Never was their lustre, and lust to find a way back in, more sparkling than when Jordan Jones picked up the ball 25 yards out on the left after 58 minutes, sized up his angles, and flighted in a peach of a drive that nestled in the top left-hand corner of Marciano’s net.
“It wasn’t bad,” said Clarke, in typically understated fashion. “He’s caught them sweet cutting in on to his right before and he probably had to with this one because their keeper has made some quite amazing saves.”
It was the spark his team needed, Clarke said, but should have been the spark to light up a victory.
“We should have won the game, though, we were the best team by a mile,” he said. “I think we’ve shown since I’ve been at the club the spirit is good and we react to adversity. But the overriding feeling is disappointment we’ve dropped two points at home. I told them at half-time the best team was losing and they should go out and do something about it.
“I picked up some snippets from the ‘experts’ on TV at half-time saying that we’d grown into the game after half an hour, but I disagree. If you take out the two goals, key incidents though they were, we were always the better team. More aggression, first to the ball, better passing, better chances. I thought we were good, which is why I’m so frustrated. OK, you take a point from two down but it should be three.”