Both sets of supporters are unhappy with the performances of their managers and it already seems unlikely that Craig Levein and Paul Heckingbottom will still be in charge of their clubs come the end of the season. More to the point, defeat this weekend will effectively spell the end for the loser.
Hibs owner Ron Gordon was on hand at Rugby Park to assess just how poorly his newly-acquired asset is performing. A promising start did not bear fruit and, after Kilmarnock had opened the scoring early in the second half, Heckingbottom’s brittle bunch never looked like taking anything from this game.
While Daryl Horgan and Stephen Mallan both tested Laurentiu Branescu in the home goal, the visitors – contrary to Heckingbottom’s claims – did not test rhe goalkeeper in the final 72 minutes of this contest. Mallan, to his credit, did not attempt to put a gloss on his side’s fifth consecutive defeat away from home in the Premiership.
“We are in a rut just now and it’s not good,” the midfielder admitted. “As the manager said after the game, we were doing well until the first goal, doing what he asked of us and the only thing we lacked was chances. We had a couple in the first half, but there has to be a lot more quality at the top end of the pitch.
“We were doing what we needed to do defensively and building up. Then there was one long ball and they scored from it. That was criminal from us; in the position we’re in at the moment, that just can’t happen.”
The pressure on both clubs going into Sunday’s encounter has been ratcheted up further by their most recent failures but Mallan insists that he and his team-mates must embrace the tension and use it as fuel.
“Very rarely you’ll find an Edinburgh derby where both teams are struggling for a win,” he added. “It’s very important. I’m sure it’ll be hyped up and both teams know they have to win. Not much changes in that respect. Whether you need a win or not, going into a derby, it’s always do or die. You have to win. You can lose three or four matches, but win that and the fans are back on your side.
“I don’t think the run we are on just now changes what will happen in the derby; even if we were unbeaten going into it, we’d still have to beat Hearts at home.
“We need to get over this and look at what we did wrong at Kilmarnock – and what we can’t do next week. We’ll see what we can do better. The pressure will come from outside the camps.
“Hearts will do what we’re going to do – look at ourselves and make sure we go out and get the three points. Hopefully, we’ll win and that’ll be the kick-on for our season. What will bring confidence? Just goals, I think. That was one of our strong points last season. When the manager first arrived, we scored four away at Dundee, we were creating chances and being more ruthless and we’re currently lacking that.”
Kilmarnock have seemingly come through the crisis of confidence which threatened to envelop them following Steve Clarke’s decision to accept the Scotland job and the disappointing start to life under his successor, Angelo Alessio.
Three wins from four unbeaten matches without conceding a goal suggests that the Italian is finding his feet in Ayrshire.
Scotland full-back Stephen O’Donnell’s magnificent crossfield pass released Liam Millar, who produced a composed finish for the opener and an intricate five-man passing move concluded with midfielder Mohamed El Makrini claiming his first goal for the club with a low drive from 15 yards.
“I felt that we edged it and it’s good to be part of a defence keeping clean sheets. I’m excited for the rest of the season,” said O’Donnell.
“It was strange because I came back from Scotland duty and didn’t know half of my own dressing room. I’d had Calum Waters and Kirk Broadfoot next to me and I’m like:’ Where is everyone?’ but it was good to be back.”