Few Hibs fans had even heard of this youngster prior to his inclusion on the bench but that didn’t stop those who travelled to Rugby Park from greeting the tiny midfielder like a long-lost friend as he stepped from the sidelines to create his own piece of Scottish football history in this win over Kilmarnock.
The arrival of McCluskey on the scene gave the briefest of glimpses into the more distant future for Hibs, a sign that the conveyor belt producing young talent at Easter Road was in full working order.
Their mood, of course, had been considerably improved by the quick one-two from Scott Brown and Garry O’Connor which floored Kilmarnock at the start of the second half, those goals giving then manager Bobby Williamson his first win at his old stomping ground since he had left to join Hibs almost two years previous, and it was the Edinburgh club’s first win at this particular venue in almost four years.
The only puzzle was why it took until the 48th minute for the first goal to arrive, Brown pouncing on O’Connor’s knockdown from Gary Smith’s free-kick to fire the ball in off Francois Dubourdeau’s right-hand post. For in a frenzied opening 15 minutes there could have been a blizzard of goals to match the snowfall which engulfed Rugby Park shortly after the final whistle.
Hibs had a goal chalked off in the first minute, Colin Murdock nodding Derek Riordan’s corner beyond Dubourdeau only for referee Hugh Dallas to chalk it off for a push on the goalkeeper. Williamson, though, admitted he was baffled by the decision.
Killie sought to take full advantage of that escape, Colin Nish totally missing his kick after James Fowler had left him facing an empty goal before the former Dunfermline striker almost cashed in on Mathias Doumbe’s hesitation by firing in a low shot aimed for the far corner only to see the ball hit the post thanks to the merest touch of goalkeeper Daniel Andersson’s fingertips.
Kevin Nicol was forced to nod Gordon Greer’s header off his own line as Killie stepped up the pressure and Murdock, who had an impressive match, nipped in to take the ball off Nish’s feet as he prepared to pull the trigger.
At the other end, Riordan, who caused Killie no end of problems with his pace and movement, shook off Freddy Dindeleux only to be forced wide by the advancing Dubourdeau, giving the French defender time to get back and knock his goalbound shot to safety.
Killie would have felt aggrieved not to have gone in at the interval on level terms but they were made to pay for such profligacy as O’Connor pushed Hibs further ahead, striking within two minutes of Brown’s opener.
O’Connor may have taken the plaudits but the goal was as much down to the tenacity of Alan Reid, who dispossessed Steve Fulton to release Riordan, who supplied a superb low cross for his fellow striker to apply a clinical finish, tucking an angled shot between the legs of Dubourdeau.
Kilmarnock: Dubourdeau, Greer, Fowler, Dindeleux, McLaughlin, Fulton, McDonald, Dodds, Locke, McSwegan, Nish.
Hibs: Andersson, Smith, Reid, Doumbe, Murdoch, Whittaker, Brown, Nicol, Wiss, O’Connor, Riordan.