Caretaker manager Billy Brown had admitted ahead of Saturday’s visit of Kilmarnock that he hoped his prospects of landing the job on a permanent basis would not hinge solely on the outcome of the game.
What became abundantly clear following the 1-1 draw is that any new incumbent in the dugout will need time to root out the seemingly ingrained nervousness and lack of confidence that factored in Colin Calderwood being dismissed from the hot-seat.
Stepping up from his number two role, Brown inherited a team that is apprehensive about playing in front of a support whose frustration is understandable, having witnessed just one SPL win at Easter Road since February. Already trailing to Manuel Pascali’s 36th minute opener for the visitors, David Wotherspoon felt the wrath of the fans towards the end of the first half.
Wotherspoon – who delivered a faultless performance in the Scotland Under-21s’ stunning Euro qualifying win in Holland last Monday – ballooned a delivery from a set-piece into the Killie fans behind the goal.
That prompted a confidence-sapping crescendo of boos from the stands.
“In the first half they were as nervous as kittens,” admitted former Hearts assistant manager Brown, who is on the club’s shortlist for the vacancy following an interview.
“I don’t blame people for booing, this is a big club with big expectations and to play as poorly as we did in the first half, human nature says you’re going to boo.
“It does not help because there are a lot of young boys there. It’s been happening for a wee while and we have to get them picked up.”
In his first ever match as his own man following 23 years as number two to Jim Jefferies at Berwick, Falkirk, Hearts, Bradford and Kilmarnock, tracksuit-clad Brown moved to eradicate Hibs’ soft shell that he identified as a flaw in their play.
That meant dropping strikers Leigh Griffiths, who had been laid low with gastroenteritis, and Junior Agogo to deploy a more defensive 4-2-3-1 formation.
Michael Hart was restored to the side for the first time since sustaining a nasty groin injury in the friendly with Sunderland in August while Ivan Sproule started on the right-side of midfield.
Wotherspoon and Lewis Stevenson were tasked with protecting the back four; Sproule, Danny Galbraith and Isaiah Osbourne were asked to support lone marksman Garry O’Connor.
But the tactics did not have the desired affect as Kilmarnock dominated much of a first half that saw O’Connor cut an isolated figure up front.
Killie’s goal arrived in the 36th minute when Danny Buijs’ stinging low shot from outside the box was parried by Graham Stack and Pascali slid in to lift the ball over the grounded goalkeeper.
Brown acted at half-time by replacing Hart and Galbraith with Richie Towell and Griffiths as they reverted to a traditional 4-4-2.
And within five minutes of the restart they were level. Sproule swung over a low cross from the by-line that was dropped by goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola and Griffiths pounced to steer in the rebound from a tight angle.
Kilmarnock finished the game the stronger of the two sides but struggled to create any real chances of note.
“If we had played like we did in the second half in the first, we could have possibly won it,” said Brown, after the point earned helped Hibs move two points clear of SPL basement side Inverness.
“In the second half we did a lot better, we showed a lot of fight, guts and determination and I think changing the team helped me a wee bit. They got booed off the park in the first half and the last thing they needed was somebody going through them so I had to try and lift them.
“It was not a half-time for destroying people, their confidence was low.”
Brown now has to play the waiting game as the club look to whittle down their shortlist and appoint a successor to Calderwood.
“There is no timescale for a decision,” added Brown.
“I don’t know anything really apart from the fact I’m in consideration for the job, as are other people.
“It’s a very important decision and they have to go through the process. I hope it’s me, I think the way I go about things is what’s needed here but at the end of the day, I’ve done as much as I can.” Despite being demoted to the bench at the weekend, on loan Celtic player Towell has been encouraged by the impact Brown has made on the training pitch.
He said: “Billy has been here a while as assistant manager and the way he is trying to make us play is rubbing off on all of us.
“The second-half performance showed he wants a high work ethic and that’s what happened.
“If Billy got the job it would give us the stability we need.
“What Billy has done in the last two weeks has been really good and everyone has been very positive.
“I think we all need to continue working hard for each other and for Billy.
“The way he tries to get us to play football and the way he goes about his work is really good and I could see him here on a permanent basis.”
Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels got the response he wanted following their 6-3 drubbing to Inverness in their previous outing but thought his side’s performance merited the collection of all three points.
He said: “We felt it was such an injustice to be 1-1, the goalkeeper makes a mistake and it was unbelievable what happened from there how we didn’t win it.
“There was one person of the 22 starting participants whose ineptitude had a major influence on us not winning the game.”