July 28, 2001
A LATE header from great Dane Ulrik Laursen earned new-look Hibs a point as the previous season’s third and fourth-placed sides in the SPL served up an opening-day thriller at Easter Road.
Long queues began building up outside Easter Road as Hibs fans, anxious not only to see Alex McLeish’s rash of summer signings in serious action for the first time but the new £6 million main stand, surrounded the ground.
And they weren’t disappointed as McLeish gave SPL debuts to Ulises de la Cruz, Alen Orman, Paco Luna and Craig Brewster while the new stand, though some way short of its 6500 capacity, certainly made the Leith stadium somewhat more intimidating.
Killie shrugged off a thunderous reception from the home fans to silence the green-and-white army with the opening goal after just four minutes as former Watford striker Michel Ngonge enjoyed a dream debut.
Ngonge nicked Freddy Dindeleux’s throw-in on the left away from Hibs skipper Franck Sauzee and was left with acres of room as he ran in on Nick Colgan before coolly slotting the ball under the badly-exposed goalkeeper’s body.
Easter Road exploded in the 38th minute as Hibs equalised from the penalty spot, the home fans celebrating with a burst of the French national anthem as skipper Sauzee thundered the ball high into the net from the spot. Killie, however, were furious at the award, given with no hesitation by referee Somers after Luna got on the end of Laursen’s cross, took a touch away from the goalkeeper and promptly went to ground as Marshall scrambled at his feet.
Marshall rose in fury and was booked for his vehement protest but Sauzee remained cool to claim his first goal of the season as he sent the Killie No.1 the wrong way.
An equaliser was no more than Hibs deserved for their first-half exploits in which they had produced some terrific free-flowing football despite having so many players new to the SPL in their ranks.
Their joy, however was short-lived as Killie took the lead again with two minutes of injury-time at the end of the first-half on the clock. Ally Mitchell’s low cross from the left was missed by everyone except Christophe Cocard. The French striker hammered in a powerful right-foot shot and although Colgan got a hand to it he couldn’t prevent the ball going into the net at his left-hand post.
Hibs replaced Luna, cheered and booed in equal measure by the rival fans, with David Zitelli in the 69th minute but their main threat continued to come from the right flank, where De la Cruz was living up to all the hype which surrounded his £700,000 transfer. It was Laursen, though, who proved Hibs’ hero with eight minutes to go when he met a Zitelli corner from the right and found the net with a downward header.