HIBS earned their fans some festive cheer with a hard-fought point at Rugby Park but felt their Christmas would have been much happier had it not been for a penalty blunder by referee Bobby Madden.
SCORERS: Kilmarnock: Heffernan (6). Hibs: Doyle (26).
BOOKINGS: Hibs: Deegan (48, handball), Cairney (62 simulation), McGivern (81, bringing down McKenzie).
REFEREE: B Madden
The whistler booked Pat Cairney for diving after a challenge from Kilmarnock defender Michael Nelson, leaving the midfielder raging not only at losing the chance to claim a potential winner, but the fact he’ll now be suspended in the New Year.
Cairney was at the centre of another spot-kick storm against Killie earlier in the season at Easter Road as he tangled with Ryan O’Leary, an incident which left Rugby Park boss Kenny Shiels raging after Leigh Griffiths converted from 12 yards to earn Hibs a victory. On this occasion however Cairney was adamant Madden was in the wrong, claiming even Nelson had admitted there had been contact. Although there were 28 minutes left at that point the Edinburgh club had been turning the screw on their opponents and a second goal at that point could well have proved pivotal.
Although Hibs manager Pat Fenlon had called for an end to the alarming habit his side had adopted over the course of their previous two games in losing six largely avoidable goals, his words appeared to have gone unheeded as the Edinburgh club found themselves behind after only six minutes. Veteran defender Alan Maybury was guilty of an unnecessary challenge on James Dayton who had his back to goal, offering Killie a free-kick 22 yards out which Borja Perez struck superbly, his effort matched by the save from Ben Williams, the goalkeeper throwing himself full-length to get a strong hand on the ball to push it aside. Hibs though, thinking the danger had been averted, switched off as the ball was returned into the danger area, Michael Nelson’s touch finding the unmarked Heffernan, played onside by Lewis Stevenson, who had no trouble in lofting it over the stranded Williams.
Heffernan almost added a second, again finding himself unchallenged as he rose to meet Dayton’s cross, but his header crept inches wide of target.
In response Griffiths had two attempts in quick succession, a free-kick from 25 yards which went over and then a low shot from even further out which went just wide of Cammy Bell’s left-hand post with the goalkeeper struggling to get there.
Hibs, with Gary Deegan starting his first match in ten weeks at the expense of Jorge Claros in midfield, had struggled to find anything near the level of command they had enjoyed for the opening hour against Motherwell eight days earlier, but slowly felt their way into the match before conjuring up an equaliser much against the run of play.
It was a delightful effort, Griffiths drifting into one of those pockets of space which make him so difficult to mark to pick up Paul Cairney’s well-weighted pass before delivering an inviting low cross which evaded Bell but appeared to have gone beyond Hibs striker Eoin Doyle at the back post. The Irishman, though, readjusted his feet and, with the ball having almost passed behind him, managed to get his right boot to it and steer it beyond Bell and into the net.
However, Hibs’ defence was once again looking less than assured and it took a well-timed block from Ryan McGivern to prevent Heffernan adding to his tally.
Kenny Shiels’ players would, no doubt, have felt aggrieved to be heading towards half-time on level terms but they could easily have been behind as David Wotherspoon’s corner came off a Kilmarnock head, forcing Bell to push it clear from under his crossbar. He did so but succeeded only in pushing the ball onto the head of Paul Hanlon. The defender, though, was caught by surprise and could do nothing to direct it on target.
Having overcome that slow start Hibs began to dominate and Cairney went close two minutes into the second half, finding himself all alone to collect Doyle’s pass as he strode into the Killie penalty area. He successfully lifted the ball over Bell but his effort carried insufficient power to cross the line as Jamie Fowler got back to head clear.
Cairney said: “It was a good clearance, but I should have scored. I took a bad touch, was too close to the goalkeeper and tried to dink him.”
The incessant rain which had fallen since long before kick-off had made the Rugby Park surface slick and such conditions invited the opportunistic strike such as that which Griffiths delivered from range, forcing Bell to scramble along his line before pushing the ball, which had skidded up off the turf, aside.
Perhaps encouraged by Griffiths’ attempt, Killie defender MomoSissoko, who himself felt he should have had a first half penalty, wandered forward to thunder in a tremendous effort from 30 yards which whistled inches wide with Williams looking well beaten.
Cairney, who had won a contentious penalty which provided Hibs with the winner last time these two sides met although television evidence proved it was the correct decision, went down under a challenge from Nelson deep into the area but the referee booked him for diving although, again, the cameras showed the Hibs midfielder had more than a decent claim for a spot-kick.
Cairney was adamant he’d been wronged. “It was a stonewaller. The boy has caught me. I’m an honest player, I do not go down easy. It’s a penalty and their boy said it was afterwards.
“The ref thought it was a dive, but it definitely wasn’t. I told him to watch it on television.”
Much was made of that incident earlier in the season at Easter Road, Killie boss Shiels having claimed that even from 50 yards and with his dodgy eyesight it was clear there had been no contact, the fuss made leaving many wondering if that had perhaps influenced events this time round. Cairney said: “I do not know what the referee’s position was but I’ve seen it again and it was a stonewaller.”
Madden’s decision left the game finely balanced with both sides knowing the next goal could well prove to be the winner and Cillian Sheridan chanced his luck with a back heel from substitute Rory McKenzie’s low cross but Hanlon had spotted the threat and stepped in to boot clear before Williams did well to get his chest behind a powerfully struck free-kick from Dayton after the ball had reared up viciously just in front of him.
As full-time neared it became clear just how crucial that penalty shout for Hibs had turned out to be, Fenlon’s players adamant they’d been denied with even Nelson admitting there had been contact and Madden’s call could have gone either way.