Kilmarnock 3-0 Hibs: Six games without a win as Hibs go into free-fall

Hibs head coach Neil Lennon trudges back to the dressing room while Kilmarnock boss Steve Clarke applauds the home support. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS Group
Hibs head coach Neil Lennon trudges back to the dressing room while Kilmarnock boss Steve Clarke applauds the home support. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS Group
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When Neil Lennon’s men racked up a fourth consecutive win by thrashing Hamilton 6-0 at Easter Road on 6 October, they were nicely poised in second place (only two points behind leaders Hearts) and any suggestion that they were about to descend into a slough of despond would have seemed laughable.

Yet here we are; having harvested only two points from a possible 18 since that afternoon, failure to beat second-bottom St Mirren at home on Wednesday will officially constitute a crisis.

Hibernian are now closer to third-bottom Accies than they are to Saturday’s opponents, whose convincing victory leaves them in third position.

Lennon can only yearn for the consistency which Steve Clarke’s side has achieved this season and last. As assistant-manager Garry Parker suggested, their best chance of avoiding defeat here was through the floodlight failure which twice brought the second half to a halt for 15 minutes at a time.

Unfortunately for Lennon, his players – unlike the Rugby Park electricians – did not rage against the dying of the light. They were second best from start to finish and 
fortunate not to have lost by a wider margin.

Australia midfielder Mark Milligan, pictured, claims the loss of momentum was caused by the cessation of domestic fixtures while Scotland played Israel and Portugal but the problems appear more deep-rooted than that.

“The international break in October killed us,” said the 33-year-old. “We’ve had a tough run of games but that’s no excuse. In the Celtic and Hearts games, although they weren’t great results, we had decent 
performances.

“We need to get back to putting both of those things together and not having one or the other. We need results but we also need to be playing well to do that.”

Parker confessed that the visitors had travelled to Ayrshire intent on damage limitation, hoping to frustrate their hosts and escape with a draw. That plan required more resolute and determined defending than was displayed here, however.

Eamonn Brophy was allowed the freedom of Kilmarnock to get on the end of Greg Stewart’s cutback for the opening goal in the sixth minute and it was all downhill from there. Darren McGregor’s reckless lunge on Jordan Jones allowed Brophy to double that advantage from the penalty spot, and Hibs never looked like salvaging a point.

Indeed, it was surprising that the home side had to wait until the final minute before emphasising their superiority, with Stewart lifting Chris Burke’s through ball over the advancing Adam Bogdan.

“The way we started wasn’t good enough,” said Milligan. “You can’t expect to be competitive when you start the way we did. I think the second half was better but it was too little, too late.

“We knew what to expect from Kilmarnock but we needed to believe in ourselves a bit more. We got caught up in the sort of back-and-forth stuff and that doesn’t really suit us.

“But if you want to get it down and play football you have to earn that right and we didn’t do that.

“I think a win at home to St Mirren on Wednesday would flick a switch and turn things round. I’ve been in this situation previously and even if you have to grind out a result, it does something within the squad and it gives you belief again.

“Sometimes it just takes the smallest thing to turn it around, a little bit of magic from someone, a little bit of guts to push you through.”

The visitors did not look comfortable playing three at the back but Milligan refused to accept that was the reason for their latest failure.

“We’ve played a number of different shapes this year and it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “We were a bit late on a few things. We weren’t getting to the second balls first. When we were trying to clear our lines we weren’t hitting the right areas.

“There were a number of things, I don’t think you can put it down to the shape we were playing. Regardless of that, you need to be competitive first and foremost.”

Stewart, meanwhile, claims that Killie’s prime concern is that Clarke’s alchemy will lead to him being lured elsewhere.

“That’s the big worry. When you do well in football, someone will see it and the next thing you know they’re away,” he said.

“When you’re doing it in Scotland and a bigger club comes calling then what do you do? But the gaffer’s already worked at top clubs. I just hope that we can keep on doing what we’ve been doing up until now.”