Hibs 0 Kilmarnock 1: Hibees in the play-off

Jeroen Tesselaar (right) slides in on Hibs' Duncan Watmore. Pic: SNS
Jeroen Tesselaar (right) slides in on Hibs' Duncan Watmore. Pic: SNS
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Kris Boyd’s 22nd goal of the season condemned Hibs to the trauma of a play-off to save their place in the Scottish Premiership.

Terry Butcher’s side had gone into the final game of the season knowing nothing less than a win would be enough for them to avoid a two-legged showdown against a Championship side - but slumped to yet anther defeat.

Once again it was the same old story for the Easter Road club, an inability to capitalise on early pressure and they paid the price when Boyd drilled home the game’s only goal two minutes from half-time.

It was enough to secure top flight football for Kilmarnock for another season and now Hibs have ten day before the play the first of those two play-off matches with few giving them much hope of even grasping that one, final lifeline.

Many fans certainly don’t think so and it was unsurprising to see a fair number gather outside the main stand afterwards to vent their anger at seeing their club having gone into freefall over the past five months.

Shouts of “sack the board, “[Rod] Petrie out” and “Butcher get to ****” clearly audible.

Butcher sprang a surprise before kick-off, recalling former Kilmarnock star Paul Heffernan for his first game since March 22, the striker having damaged his groin during the warm-up prior to the visit of Aberdeen on April 7.

Heffernan partnered James Collins up front in this must-win match for Hibs with Jason Cummings and Danny Handling dropping to the bench while Michael Nelson made an immediate return after suspension, a move which saw Lewis Stevenson named among the substitutes.

Winger Duncan Watmore made the starting line-up with Alex Harris missing out while Kevin Thomson’s thigh problem saw him absent once again.

Hibs began by forcing three quick corners all of which came to nothing only for Kris Boyd, Killie’s top scorer to get the ball into the net but thankfully for Butcher’s side the offside flag had already been raised.

It was the Scottish Premiership’s poorest attack against the league’s worst defence but Hibs continued to drive forward and went close to scoring three times in as many minutes, goalkeeper Craig Samson stopping Scott Robertson’s low shot with his legs before Vitalijs Maksimenko got his head to a powerful shot from Jordon Forster.

And from the resultant corner taken by Watmore Robertson’s glancing header looked netbound until Barry Nicholson, in for the suspended James Fowler nodded it off the line at the back post.

Forster then headed wide with Hibs screaming for a penalty as Michael Nelson was clearly being held but referee Craig Thomson who, it is fair to say is no favourite of the Easter Road crowd, refused to point to the spot.

Once again, though, Hibs failure to turn possession into goals was their undoing, the home defence switching off as Ross Barbour fired a ball in from the right, but Boyd was alert, swivelling on the 18-yard line to drill low shot beyond Ben Williams and into the corner of the net.

Boyd’s 43rd minute strike left Hibs with no option but to go for it after the interval, the obvious risk being they’d be hit on the break and the Killie hitman almost doubled his side’s lead when he peeled round the back of Forster to meet Barbour’s deep cross only to see his downward header brilliantly saved down low to his left by Williams,

It was all too comfortable for Killie, safe in the knowledge that the league’s lowest scoring team didn’t look like hurting the worst defence in it and Boyd went close again to wrapping it up when Alexei Eremenko found him in acres of space but on this occasion the face of Forster came to Hibs rescue.

And Hibs afternoon - and probably their entire season was summed up 14 minutes from time when skipper Liam Craig’s rising shot beat Samson only to crash back off the bar.

Hibs: Williams, Forster, Nelson, McGivern, Watmore, Robertson (Tudur Jones 66), Stanton (Harris 76) , Craig, Collins, Heffernan.

Substitutes not used: Murdoch, McPake, Stevenson, Handling, Cummings.

Kilmarnock: Samson, Tesselaar, Irvine, Nicholson (Slater 66), Boyd, Barbour, McKenzie (Muirhead 66), Eremenko, Maksimenko (Clingan 33), Pascali, Ashcroft.

Substitutes not used: Reguero, Gros, Bouzid.

Referee: Craig Thomson.