Neil Lennon gambled on bringing Flo Kamberi to Hibs well aware that the young Swiss striker’s record in front of goal was somewhat less than remarkable. In fact, Kamberi had managed just one solitary league goal – while on loan at German Bundesliga 2 side Karlsruhe from Grasshoppers Zurich – in the previous 15 months.
Nevertheless, as he discarded his then top scorers Simon Murray and Anthony Stokes, Lennon believed Kamberi would lend his side a physical presence up front, someone who could use his strength to hold the ball and bring others into play.
Even Lennon’s own players concede they were rather puzzled by their manager’s decision, Kamberi and his fellow January arrival Australian striker Jamie Maclaren were, after all, hardly well-known names.
However, the pair, strangers to each other never mind their new team-mates, have proved to be, arguably, the best bit of business done by any Premiership side in the January transfer window, the 12 goals they’ve shared playing an obvious part in keeping Hibs very much in the race for second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Maclaren’s goalscoring record was there for all to see, the 20 he’d plundered in just 29 games for Brisbane Roar having won him Australia’s golden boot the season before, but Kamberi has, as far as Lennon is concerned, been something of a bonus.
In fact, he’s become something of a talisman as far as the Capital outfit are concerned. He is still to taste defeat in 11 outings and, with seven goals to his name alongside an impressive list of assists such as the one which set up Scott Allan for the opening strike in what proved to be an eight-goal thriller as Hibs saw off the threat Kilmarnock were beginning to pose.
If Lennon and others have been pleasantly surprised, Kamberi himself is adamant he knew he was more than capable if given the chance.
All it has taken, he insisted, was a little “TLC”, something Lennon has provided in abundance. The 23-year-old said: “Since I’ve arrived here, I have improved and a big part of it is from the coach because he gives me the trust and confidence that I need as a striker.
“I am playing for 90 minutes, so I have the opportunity to score. I give everything in training so that I can improve and if I can improve in training then I can score in games, so it is perfect for me.
“I’m not really surprised by the goals I have scored because I know that I can. The problem at Grasshoppers was that I didn’t get a fair chance. I know that if I get that and the manager trusts me then I can repay him with good performances and goals.”
And goals aplenty they were in a match Lennon described as “a humdinger”, two sides hell-bent on winning for different purposes, Killie still in with an outside chance of forcing their way into the European reckoning thanks to the transformation Steve Clarke has brought about at Rugby Park while Hibs, of course, very much have Rangers and Aberdeen in their sights in that battle for second place.
Kamberi’s clever pass gave Allan that opening goal before Killie’s veteran striker Kris Boyd found space to nod Jordan Jones’ cross beyond a startled Ofir Marciano, the 1-1 scoreline at half-time giving no hint of what was to follow.
With Clarke banished to the stand by referee Don Robertson, apparently for querying two penalty shouts which went unanswered, a pinpoint cross from John McGinn arrowed in to meet Steven Whittaker’s run and his fine finfish put Hibs ahead again only for Stuart Findlay to haul Killie level at 2-2.
Maclaren’s predatory instincts put the home team ahead once more and, when Allan threaded a superb pass through for Kamberi to claim Hibs’ fourth goal, the points looked totally safe.
Boyd, however, hammered home his 22nd goal of the season with a stunning free-kick which flew high into Marciano’s net from 30 yards out, setting up a nervous ten minutes for Hibs during which Killie again thought they’d equalised only to find the offside flag raised.
It was, conceded, Boyd, the correct decision, revealing: “Jordan cut inside and I was trying to get in position for a rebound but I was offside. It’s disappointing not to get anything, but the fact we are disappointed shows how far we have come.”
Boyd had a long conversation with Robertson after he’d waved away Jones’ claims for a spot-kick after he went down under the challenge of Darren McGregor only six minutes in, the striker convinced that both it, and the claims made when Stephen O’Donnell and Lewis Stevenson tangled, were valid shouts.
He said: “I felt they were both penalties but you’d need to ask him why they were not given. What did the referee say to me? He told me to shut up. The reasons he gave will stay with me, but looking at it and having seen it again it was clear.”
Hibs, too, had a penalty claim, one which looked far stronger given Robertson initially pointed to the spot before changing his mind, arriving ultimately, conceded Lennon, at the right decision.
However, it all mattered little in the end as substitute Brandon Barker wriggled his way through deep into added-on time to drill home Hibs’ fifth goal of the match.
Such was the entertainment it was something of a disappointment that fourth official Craig Napier’s board showed only three added minutes to be played but while admitting his side had endured some “rocky moments,” Lennon was naturally delighted with the victory.
He said: “It was a big, big win for us under the circumstances. It was two teams going out for the win. I have to pay tribute to Kilmarnock, they were superb and the game could quite easily have ended in a draw.
“I am pleased with the character we showed. My only criticism was the first goal we lost, to leave Kris Boyd free in our box was criminal. They scored two other very good goals, there’s nothing you can do about the free-kick and their second goal was well worked.
“The game ebbed and flowed, but we were superb going forward, we scored five really good goals, each in their own way. I have got to be really pleased despite losing three goals – you can’t have the perfect team all the time. There were rocky periods in the game but the character we showed to come back after conceding and conceding again was very pleasing.
“They wanted to go out and win, you could see that in their body language and their attitude.”