HOME wins, let alone Hibs goals, have been in short supply at Easter Road this season, but it took the Hibees just 13 minutes to open their account against Kilmarnock yesterday and this time, you knew there would be more to come.
Prior to Killie’s visit, Hibs had only scored five Premiership goals at home this season and had only recorded one league win in Leith in the current campaign, contributing to a wretched record of just four home wins in all competitions in 2013.
However, as their efforts on the pitch this year drew to a close, the sheer number of crosses Hibs fired in, from both the left and right side of the pitch, and the frequency with which Hibs pushed up the park, left the Killie defenders spinning on their heels as Terry Butcher’s men strolled to a 3-0 success.
In fact, the victory could have been even more emphatic had Hibs taken more of the chances which came their way.
Paul Hanlon scored that early opener – his first of the season – but it was the contribution of Paul Cairney and Lewis Stevenson which caused the Ayrshire side the most problems.
Those two players not only teed up numerous chances for their team-mates, but also weighed in with a goal each of their own as Hibs put in one of their best performances of the season.
Hibs manager Butcher was delighted to see his side firing on all cylinders, particularly with the visit of Hearts in the New Year derby just a couple of days away, and he was especially pleased to see his side shoot at will.
Butcher said: “We encourage shots. We stop play sometimes and ask them why they didn’t shoot, or tell them to shoot more often.
“I think they’re starting to come round to the fact now that this is quite fun and that they are not going to get a rollicking if they miss the target or don’t score.
“The more shots you have, the more chance you have of scoring. The more crosses you put into the box, the more chance you have got of scoring.
“That was the case against Kilmarnock. Right from the word go we pressed them. Every time we had a corner, we looked like we were going to score.
“Lewis had some shots and [Kilmarnock goalkeeper] Craig Samson has made some unbelievable saves, in the first half especially.”
The match was preceded by a minute’s silence in honour of David Paul, who tragically passed away in the early hours of Sunday, December 22 and, fittingly, the club’s youth players lined up around the centre circle too, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his face.
It was Hibs’ first home game since his sudden death and the team looked determined to put in a good performance in his memory.
Samson’s first save of real note came with less than ten minutes on the clock when he somehow stretched his fingertips that extra inch to turn James Collins’ header away for a corner that came to nothing.
However, Hibs got the reward that their early pressure deserved when Cairney launched a corner all the way to the far side of the box for Hanlon, who stole in to power a header home.
Killie had gone into the match off the back of a 4-0 demolition of Hearts on Boxing Day, but Hibs seemed to be the quicker and hungrier of the two sides.
The graft of Stevenson, below, could have seen them double their advantage, but he was twice thwarted, first by the keeper and then by a defender to keep out his two angled efforts.
Hibs had another gilt-edged chance in 23 minutes when Scott Robertson thundered into the box to meet Cairney’s cross with his head. The connection was good, but the crossbar denied him and then, from the rebound, Collins fired wide.
Hibs felt they should have had a penalty when Jeroen Tesselaar appeared to bring Cairney down inside the box after the Hibs player had outfoxed him, but referee Willie Collum waved their claims away. Minutes later, Collins also tumbled under the attention of Manuel Pascali and Tesselaar on the edge of the box, but Collum once again was unmoved.
Kilmarnock saw more of the ball in the second half without seriously testing their hosts and Hibs eventually got the second goal that their play more than merited with 13 minutes remaining. It came after a quality cross from Ryan McGivern fell to Cairney and he drilled home a low shot from the edge of the box.
The former Partick man struggled to hold down a place in the Hibs team for most of 2013 under previous manager Pat Fenlon, hampered by injury and bitty form, but the 26-year-old seems to have a new lease of life under Butcher and believes that he has even more in his locker once he gets a few more games under his belt.
“The manager wants me and Lewis to play higher up,” he said. “I kind of tired towards the end of the game, but I am sure that, with the more games I play, my match sharpness will start to come back.”
Butcher revealed after the match that Cairney was just about to be substituted before he bagged Hibs’ second goal and the player continued: “I knew the manager was about to take me off. I wasn’t having the best second half, but thankfully I managed to get a goal and we got the win.
“We practise every day at training and the gaffer is always telling us to have more shots at goal and I think we did that against Kilmarnock.
All that was left to cap off a fine day for the men in green-and-white was a goal from Hibs’ other winger Stevenson and it came in stoppage time, his long-range left-foot effort swerving low into the net via the post. It was just reward for a player who had five shots on goal in total and put in one of his best Hibs performances.
Kilmarnock had been limited to a handful of chances in front of goal throughout, with only Kris Boyd – marshalled superbly by Hanlon and his central defensive partner Michael Nelson – and Chris Johnston coming close to hitting the back of the net.
However, Kilmarnock boss Allan Johnston insisted that there wasn’t much to choose between the sides and that his side had enjoyed their fair share of play after the break, although he did concede that his players could learn some valuable lessons from the way that Hibs defended throughout the match.
Johnston said: “I don’t think we were that far away that Hibs merited a 3-0 win. I don’t think there was too much in it, but they defended well. That is something that we can maybe learn off them and that was the difference.”