Football has a seemingly never-ending capacity to throw up bizarre coincidences. So it should probably come as no surprise that Hibs should this week find themselves in exactly the same situation as a year ago, managerless and facing a visit from Kilmarnock.
Twelve months ago, the Rugby Park side were heading to Edinburgh in the wake of John Hughes’ departure. This time round, they arrive to find his successor Colin Calderwood has headed for the exit door.
But if there’s a sense of deja vu, former Hibs and Killie defender Craig Paterson has no doubt fans of the Capital club will be hoping it can be extended just a little further with a repeat of the result that day.
Two goals from the then captian Chris Hogg – all three he scored in a green and white shirt coming against the Ayrshire outfit – ensured victory for a Hibs side under the temporary charge of Alistair Stevenson and Gareth Evans.
On Saturday caretaker boss Billy Brown, along with thousands of others, will have his fingers crossed it turns out that way, well aware a victory is of vital importance, Calderwood’s tenure having ended with Hibs a single point off the bottom of the SPL table.
Paterson, however, believes his first club are in for a tough afternoon, spotlighting ex-Hibee Dean Shiels as Killie’s dangerman thanks to the telepathic partnership he has formed with team-mate Paul Heffernan.
He said: “Hibs have to try to stop the rot, to give themselves something to build on which makes Saturday a really important game.
“But it will be difficult. Kilmarnock have a style they are going to stick with, they want to play, get the ball down, get forward, create chances and entertain.
“Kenny Shiels [Kilmarnock’s manager] has his philosophy, he’s decided they are going to play that way whoever they play against. He’ll take his chances although, as was shown against Inverness Caley the other week, you can come a cropper.
“When they went behind there was no thought of damage limitation but of how they could get back into the game. The players who have really impressed me are Shiels and Heffernan, they’ve scored a lot of goals and create chances for each other.
“The type of football they play suits Shiels down to the ground, he wants to get on the ball, make his passes and to be involved all the time. If Hibs can stop him dominating in that forward area then it will go a long way to a positive result.
“The opening goal is so vital. If Hibs get it they will have something to defend, it will get the crowd involved. But if they fall behind then it will be a bit of a struggle as we’ve seen in the last two home games against Motherwell and Dunfermline.”
Killie’s determination to get on the ball and deny the opposition possession for lengthy spells could, in Paterson’s estimation, cause Hibs more than a few problems while he’s certain Shiels will send his players out with the instruction to test the home players’ mental strength.
He said: “Shut-outs haven’t been Hibs forte this season and I’m sure Killie will look to test them in the early part of the game, to put them under pressure and turn the crowd.
“The win over St Johnstone earlier in the season is the only one Hibs have had at Easter Road since February so it’s easy to understand frustration creeping in among the fans, they haven’t had a great deal in the way of entertainment or results and Killie will try to use that.
“If they do get an early goal then, like Motherwell a few weeks ago, they are more than capable of keeping the ball and making it a difficult afternoon for Hibs.”
Although Hibs have endured a dismal season so far, Paterson insisted that despite their lowly position they shouldn’t lose sight of the fact they are only four points off the top six.
He said: “They haven’t found themselves detached in any way, two or three positive results can take them into the top half of the table and onto the tail of the teams battling for Europe. The League is so tight it doesn’t take a great many results for that to happen.
“At the moment there’s nothing to say Hibs can’t got on a run and take themselves into the top six but they have to prove it, that hey can get a consistency into their results, other than those five consecutive wins last season which eventually fizzled out, they haven’t had that for more than a year.”
If all eyes will be on Brown in the home dug-out, his name among the many which have been linked with the post of manager, Paterson also believes the players at Easter Road should be aware they’ll be under just as much scrutiny not just from their caretaker boss but all the candidates who will be taking a keen interest in proceedings.
He said: “Even if you are in the team you have to go out and prove yourself again, while players who have been on the fringes and perhaps thinking they might have to move on will see it as an opportunity to carve out a career with what is one of the top clubs in Scotland.
“Whoever plays, I’d like to think we’ll see a team out there with the sleeves rolled up and determined to impress Billy – who might get the job – or anyone else looking on.
“I’d imagine Billy will have them well wound up for it and knowing exactly what is at stake. It could set the standard for the rest of season, when the League settles down around about Christmas you want to in the top half, not trying to make sure you are caught at the bottom.
“Billy has been in the game a long time, he has a knowledge and experience second-to-none, although he hasn’t been the man in charge. But I’m sure he’ll relish the opportunity to string a few results together as the great thing being the man in possession is you have the chance to decide your own fate.”