GARY Wales plundered a stoppage-time goal as Kilmarnock proved life after Kris Boyd need not be a barren experience. Wales, the former Hearts striker, netted in the dying minutes and his dramatic intervention was enough to deprive Hibs of all three points in an often enthralling contest.
While the Easter Road club edged a little closer to second-placed Hearts in the SPL table, the nature of this draw would feel almost as sour as a defeat as they themselves had gone 2-1 in front just five minutes from the end of normal time. A point apiece was the right result, however, on an afternoon which saw both teams thoroughly entertain a crowd of more than 9000.
Hibs were almost caught cold by a Kilmarnock side in no mood to offer their first footers any undue hospitality. Jim Jefferies’ men had throaty appeals for a penalty kick turned down by referee Brian Winter inside 30 seconds when Wales tumbled under a robust challenge from Stephen Glass.
Sparked by some tenacious work from Kevin Thomson, who did his utmost to compensate for the absence of the suspended Scott Brown, Hibs gradually overcame their initial sluggishness.
A terrific cross-field pass from Thomson sent Derek Riordan clear on the right, but, while his low centre had the Kilmarnock defence stretched, strike partner Garry O’Connor was unable to reach it on the edge of the six-yard box.
Any sense that Hibs were building up a positive momentum in the contest evaporated with the unfortunate loss of Guillaume Beuzelin to injury in the 25th minute. The French midfielder came off worst in a 50-50 challenge with Allan Johnston and was taken from the field on a stretcher.
He was replaced by Chris Hogg, who joined Gary Smith in central defence, with captain Gary Caldwell pushed forward into midfield.
Hibs were still adapting to their personnel reshuffle when Kilmarnock took the lead in spectacular fashion on the half-hour mark. While goalscorer Steven Naismith had every reason to be pleased with the power and quality of his right-foot shot from around 25 yards, the standard of Zibi Malkowski’s goalkeeping left much to be desired. Although the big Pole managed to get two hands on the ball, he merely helped it into the roof of the net.
It required a fine penalty-area intervention by Kilmarnock defender David Lilley to deflect an O’Connor shot behind as Hibs built up a head of attacking steam in the second half which was finally rewarded with their 60th-minute equaliser.
A Thomson corner from the right found O’Connor whose header was touched on to the cross bar by Combe. In the ensuing melee, Steven Fletcher saw a shot blocked on the line, before Hogg managed to drive in a shot via the underside of the cross bar.
Hibs suddenly looked the more likely victors and certainly believed they would be taking all three points back up the M77 when O’Connor put them 2-1 in front five minutes from the end of regulation time.
The elation was short-lived with the dramatic stoppage-time intervention of Wales, who prodded the ball into an empty net from close range after another Malkowksi aberration saw him fail to deal with substitute Paul Di Giacomo’s header from Gary Hay’s free-kick.