Hibs and Kilmarnock draw 2-2

Leigh Griffiths celebrates his goal. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Leigh Griffiths celebrates his goal. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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If the last five minutes of this match are anything to go by we should have a classic, rip-roaring Scottish Cup tie when these two teams meet again on Sunday at Rugby Park.

Three goals in little more than two minutes as Hibs twice battled back to snatch a precious point in the battle for a top-six finish have set things up nicely for the second leg of their league and Cup double-header.

Which way will the quarter-final go? As both Pat Fenlon and Killie boss Kenny Shiels agreed, who can say. There’s so little between the teams that no-one would be surprised if a replay was needed to separate them.

But possibly, just possibly, might the momentum have swung slightly in the Capital side’s favour even if they do face a trip to Ayrshire? Twice Shiels’s players thought they had this match won and with it the chance to leapfrog Hibs and into the SPL’s top six only to have their hopes dashed by a team which has developed a never-say-die attitude over the course of this season.

What effect will the events of those dramatic last few minutes have on Sunday’s re-run? Hibs were no doubt happy rather than elated at the final result while you can only imagine the Killie players have been left somewhat bemused and bewildered.

As has been stated both by Fenlon and his captain James McPake, Hibs are no longer a soft touch, a team liable to fold at the first sign of adversity. True, they aren’t without their flaws. Fenlon would be the first to admit they are far from the finished article but the one thing he can count on is a work ethic and a dogged determination to do all in their power to ensure they don’t end up 
second best.

Of course there will be days when, despite all their efforts, that’s what will happen, take the debacle against St Johnstone the other week for example. However, such occasions have proved to be rather few and far between, that willingness to roll up the sleeves and to scrap all the way to the final whistle helping overcome, to a degree, the shortcomings which Fenlon is striving to eradicate.

Rarely, though, have Hibs had to dig so deep to snatch something from the jaws of defeat and, in so doing, hold on to their place in the upper half of the SPL table, a target which remains their priority in the four remaining matches before the split.

In truth, Killie appeared to have the points wrapped up thanks to a stunning strike from Sammy Clingan just 52 seconds after the interval.

The Northern Ireland midfielder, who had hammered a free-kick against the post in the first half, completed a free-flowing sequence of play, shifting the ball slightly to his right before thumping a superb rising shot beyond goalkeeper Ben Williams and into the corner of the net.

Rory McKeown might have made it two with an effort which crashed back off the inside of the woodwork as Hibs, once again relying heavily on the talents of Leigh Griffiths, toiled to cause their visitors too many awkward moments. At times they looked ponderous and laboured, the home fans voicing their frustration at a lack of incisive passing with Clingan and James Fowler providing an effective shield in front of the back four and preventing Griffiths, as he had done to great effect at Tannadice at the weekend, dropping into space between them and midfield before wreaking havoc.

Any threat they did carry, though, tended to come from Griffiths, the striker drilling one low shot inches wide and then, taking on three opposition defenders, he contrived to open up enough space to send another zipping over Cammy Bell’s crossbar.

And when Scott Robertson got on the end of McPake’s knockdown from a Lewis Stevenson free-kick only to find himself off balance and unable to do any more than loft the ball over, it looked like being one of those nights for Fenlon’s players.

But with just five minutes remaining, Ryan McGivern’s first goal for the club seemed to have secured a point, the on-loan Manchester City defender rising to send a glancing header from substitute David Wotherspoon’s corner into the roof of the net.

However, McGivern, his team-mates and their fans barely had time to celebrate before Killie youngster Jude Winchester matched Clingan’s earlier effort with an equally superb strike to put Shiels’s side 2-1 up. “I thought we had won it,” said the Kilmarnock manager.

So, too, did most inside Easter Road. Well, everyone bar those in green and white shirts as, incredibly, Hibs conjured up a second equaliser in the space of barely three minutes.

Eoin Doyle managed to get on the end of Wotherspoon’s cross only to see his effort hit the woodwork.

On this occasion, though, luck was on Hibs’ side, the ball deflecting across goal for Griffiths to apply the finishing touch from a couple of yards out. It was his 19th goal of the season. Not his most spectacular, but just as important as most he has scored although Shiels claimed his players believed James Dayton had been fouled in the build-up to it.

Now all focus will be on Sunday, with both sets of players having their eyes on a place in the semi-finals and a day out at Hampden. As always, it’s difficult to call when two teams meet each other twice in quick succession and Shiels, for one, insisted the breathtaking drama of last night will have no bearing on the outcome of the Cup tie.

He said: “Football has so many variations you cannot say what kind of game Sunday will be. What way will it go? You cannot call these games.”

Fenlon agreed, saying: “It shows there is little between the teams and I think it will be the same on Sunday. It will be a tough game, but we are looking forward to it and we will have a big support through with us.”