THE killer streak was revealed in Hibs young guns as they finished off Kilmarnock from three dead ball situations.
Both managers agreed that a 3-0 victory flattered the home side, but Bobby Williamson was not about to apologise for it and reflected with some satisfaction on a result that kept Hibs well in the hunt for a top-six finish.
In the end, precision from dead-ball set-pieces proved the difference between the sides in what was otherwise a fairly evenly-contested affair. Gary Caldwell scored his first goal since returning to Hibs, the Scotland international’s sensational right-footed free-kick in the 22nd minute breaking the deadlock. It was followed by the killer blow of Kevin Thomson’s curling left-foot effort from almost an identical position on the stroke of half-time.
Kilmarnock had come to attack and did indeed deserve to score, but found Hibs goalkeeper Daniel Andersson on top form, Mathias Doumbe formidable at the back while bad luck and their own slackness found them wanting in front of goal.
The Frenchman’s worth was exemplified after 15 minutes with an extraordinary goal line clearance. Gordon Greer had surged up from the back through the centre of Hibs midfield, which was porous in the opening stages, and pushed the ball right to Craig Dargo. The striker cut in and hammered a shot to the near post where Andersson blocked, only for the ball to ricochet off his body towards the line. Kris Boyd moved in to ensure it crossed over, but he was denied by Doumbe’s incredible athleticism as he somehow stretched his leg round to hook the ball out from under the bar.
Kilmarnock should have gone ahead in the ninth minute. Eric Skora dribbled through the Hibs defence to find Dargo unmarked in the six-yard box. The striker seemed unsure the ball would reach him and tamely poked it at Andersson who blocked the shot. His partner Boyd could only follow up from an offside position.
Still, Dargo’s pace was troubling Colin Murdock as he turned the central defender time and again. With Skora driving hard through midfield and Boyd and Dargo criss-crossing, Hibs’ central defence was in danger of collapsing. Until, that is, respite came in the most splendid fashion. Hibs were awarded a free-kick more than 30 yards out and impatience was beginning to stir in the crowd when Caldwell and Derek Riordan dallied over the ball as Garry O’Connor and Thomson formed their own wall in front of Kilmarnock’s.
It seemed unnecessarily intricate until Caldwell stepped up and sent a flashing free-kick into Colin Meldrum’s top corner. A goal of such calibre often turns a game and it now began to head in Hibs’ direction. Despite losing Steven Whittaker five minutes later, the addition of Kevin Nicol to central midfield, if anything, firmed it up.
Even as the game drifted into added on time, the hunger of the Hibs youth was unabated and as they piled forward, Skorla handled the ball 25 yards out. Again they lined up two men in front of the ball. This time, however, Thomson stepped to curl the ball audaciously into the top corner with his left foot.
Williamson’s players almost had to be dragged off as the whistle finally went. But if Kilmarnock thought there was going to be any respite they were mistaken. Jim Jefferies realised he had to chase the game and took off David Lilley and brought on Colin Nish, reverting to three at the back, but this permitted Hibs even more space to maraud down the right from where the third goal came.
In the 63rd minute, Riordan set off into the yawning gap and reached the box before crossing to the back post for Scott Brown to head the ball. It was cleared only as far as O’Connor and with the Kilmarnock defence dragged every which way but loose, Greer stabbed out a leg as the striker stepped around him and went down. It was Riordan’s turn to step up and he dispatched the ball into bottom right-hand corner with his side foot as Meldrum went the other way.
Hibs: Andersson, Caldwell, Murdock, Doumbe, Edge, Brown, Whittaker, Thomson, Reid, Riodran, O’Connor.