Contrary to manager Neil Lennon’s claim earlier in the week, it would appear that Hibernian have not so much hit a plateau as fallen off a cliff.
Kilmarnock moved into second place with this comfortable and thoroughly merited victory, although a win for either Hearts or Rangers at Tynecastle at lunchtime tomorrow would see the Ayrshire club overhauled.
It was a match blighted by two floodlight failures during the second half but they could not be used as an excuse for an impoverished performance which has left Hibs having taken only two points from the last 18 available to them.
“The biggest disappointment of the day was the lights not going back out again,” said their assistant-manager, Garry Parker. “All of it was disappointing, though, from start to finish; not good enough. We could have taken off anybody at half-time and they couldn’t have complained. In the second half it got a bit better maybe, but still not good enough.
“We went with a mindset not to get beat, be defensive and then they scored straight away so that goes out the window – sloppy defending, bad goals. It’s against our instincts to play like that, but we know what the pitch is like. That was one of the worst performances since we’ve been here; it was terrible, shocking.”
It took less than six minutes for the deadlock to be broken and the visitors’ defence will not enjoy being forced to watch re-runs of the goal at the training ground this week.
Greg Stewart was allowed time to turn on the touchline and pick out a pass for the onrushing Eamonn Brophy, who could not have been granted more space if he had been radioactive. Kilmarnock’s leading scorer had time to take a touch before drilling the ball behind Adam Bogdan for his sixth goal of the campaign.
It should have been 2-0 nine minutes later when Brophy released Stewart on the left. His cutback fell for Rory McKenzie on the penalty spot but he curled his effort wide of Bogdan’s right-hand post.
Hibs could not gain a foothold in the contest; the hosts surged forward repeatedly and neither Martin Boyle nor Florian Kamberi offered much by way of an out-ball.
Their plight worsened when Darren McGregor committed the latest in a series of desperate challenges on Jordan Jones as he played a one-two with Stewart. There was no question of a dive from the Northern Ireland winger on this occasion; referee Craig Thomson correctly pointed to the spot and Brophy converted emphatically.
Boyle earned a caution for cleaning out full-back Greg Taylor, a foul clearly born of frustration as the home side nonchalantly sprayed the ball around.
Lennon responded by replacing McGregor and the ineffective Steven Whittaker with Daryl Horgan and Oli Shaw respectively at the interval and Horgan at least forced a save from Daniel Bachmann with a shot from distance two minutes after the restart.
The game was brought to a shuddering halt due to an electrical failure which plunged the stadium into darkness in the 53rd minute. The players initially attempted to exercise on the pitch before heading for the dressing rooms, returning when normal service was restored 15 minutes later.
Horgan injected some energy into the Hibs side and Bachmann saved bravely at his feet following a surging run, before Shaw headed a cross from him against the outside of the goalkeeper’s left-hand post.
That unproductive flurry proved to be their best spell and Killie were back in control when the lights went out again midway through the second period. Play resumed after another lengthy delay but, for Lennon’s men, the darkness was not dispelled and Stewart dinked the ball over Bogdan at the death.
For Killie boss Steve Clarke, it was no less than his side deserved, although he was more concerned with another floodlight failure than any potential comeback from his opponents. “When they go off you have to let them cool and then trip the system back in again,” he said. “I don’t think the referee would have allowed a third time so the last 25 minutes was a little bit more nervous than usual.”