Scottish football dull and boring? Not when these two are thrown together as matches between Hibs and Kilmarnock have become the source of huge entertainment with open, expansive attacking football and plenty of goals.
The two sides have shared an astonishing 22 goals in their past five encounters, this one coming close but not quite matching that thrilling 5-3 result at Easter Road at the end of last season, although the outcome, as then, not clear until the final blast of the whistle.
And when it came, Hibs had again just edged it over the men from Ayrshire, Neil Lennon’s players deserving what was a much-needed win for their second-half efforts having had their two-goal lead pegged back before half-time.
Finally, however, the game tipped in their balance on two decisions by referee John Beaton, who awarded Hibs a penalty from which Flo Kamberi claimed the winner before waving away Killie’s claims for a spot-kick of their own when Kirk Broadfoot, the unwitting culprit minutes earlier as he was judged to have tripped Jamie Maclaren, being adamant he had been fouled by defender Efe Ambrose.
Kilmarnock boss Steve Clarke, already at war with officialdom, was not surprisingly unimpressed, convinced his side had again fallen victim to a highly dubious call – his stance evoking sympathy from Lennon. The Hibs head coach said: “It could have gone either way so I’m not going to lie and say I thought it definitely wasn’t a penalty. Our penalty was a penalty.”
While that debate rages on, Hibs fans will simply reflect on a first league win since the opening day of the season, the Capital club, while showing a defensive vulnerability as conceding six goals in five games would suggest, geared to be on the front foot. Yes, John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch have gone as well as flying winger Brandon Barker, those departures along with a lengthy injury list which, at last, is beginning to shorten, requiring Lennon to tinker with his formation. This time round Steven Whittaker sat in behind a midfield four of Martin Boyle, Stevie Mallan, Emerson Hyndland and Dylan Horgan which, if it looks a bit light in terms of stature, is definitely not short of pace and more than a little trickery. It was Boyle’s speed which tempted Aaron Tshibola into a challenge which drew a free-kick 26 yards out. And Mallan needed no further encouragement as he dispatched a trademark shot into the top corner of the net. He then crossed for skipper David Gray to bullet home a header.
However, Hibs allowed Eamonn Brophy and Greg Stewart to draw Killie level by the interval, Lennon complaining: “I was disappointed, we stood off them, were very passive and quality players will hurt you like that.”
The introduction of Thomas Agyepong, like Barker before him on loan from Manchester City, for the limping Boyle, took nothing away from Hibs’ desire to push forward, the diminutive Ghana internationalist displaying similar pace and devilment as his predecessor.
And, he admitted, he loved every minute of his second-half appearance, his Hibs debut having ended in that disappointment of defeat by Livingston. The 21-year-old is adamant Lennon’s determination to have his players taking every opportunity will suit him immensely.
“I loved it,” he said. “The manager told us before the game to keep passing the ball in the right way and, at the right time, space will open up and that would be when we could hurt them so we just kept passing and being patient on the ball.”
Agyepong, however, confessed that Kilmarnock’s willingness to play in a similar manner had surprised him following his introduction to football this side of the Border. “I was told Scottish football was more physical and when we played Livingston it was a different game to this one.
“The pitch at Easter Road is good and suits the way we want to play so at home we are good.”
Agyepong revealed he felt the buzz which went around the stands every time he was in possession, supporters anticipating he could bring added excitement to proceedings and, he admitted, that’s something he can feed off.
He said: “I could feel it on the pitch. I was used to that when I was in Holland [on loan at NAC Breda] and it gives you the feeling you can drive on. We were drawing the game so I knew we had to drive forward and try to make something happen because we needed to win.”
As much as Hibs fans will want to see Agyepong taking opposition defences apart, he insisted that, like his team-mates, he’ll be expected to take on his share of defensive duties. And at one point he received a pat on the back from Gray for chasing back to help him deal with the threat of Killie winger Jordan Jones.
He said: “You have to track back and help out your full back. Their winger was good so I had to double up on him just as they were with me when I got the ball.”