Kilmarnock-Hibs final word: ‘We can dominate teams, but we need to score. Be ruthless’
The problem is glaring, finding a solution not so easy. A simple glance at the goals for and against column shines the brightest of lights on why Hibs find themselves languishing at the foot of the Premiership table, just four points from five matches and with a single win to their name.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side can’t score goals – and they can’t keep them out at the other end. Only four times have the Easter Road outfit found the back of the net, while the opposition have found the route to theirs far too easy, 13 goals lost, 11 of them as they’ve slumped to defeat in their three away games to date.
But it’s the manner in which those goals are being lost which will be of greatest concern to Heckingbottom. Too many have been avoidable, underlining the head coach’s assertion that his players are “soft.”
They are certainly a soft touch, as highlighted by Kilmarnock’s opening goal, a simple ball over the top from Stephen O’Donnell allowing Liam Millar to slot it beyond Ofir Marciano. The fact Killie got a second through Mohamed El Makrini was, as midfielder Stevie Mallan admitted, merely incidental.
The damage was done with that opener, a pivotal moment in a match in which Hibs were holding their own if not quite carrying the threat to worry Killie boss Angelo Alessio too much.
“It was criminal from us,” conceded Mallan. “As the manager said after the game we were doing well until the first goal, doing what he asked of us, the only thing we lacked was chances.
“We had a couple in the first-half, but there has to be a lot more quality at the top end of the pitch. We were doing what we needed to do defensively and building up.
“Then there was one long ball and they scored from it. In the position we are in at the moment, that just can’t happen.”
Of disappointment for Heckingbottom was the lack of response from his players, the head coach admitting heads had gone down while the body language changed, a certain sign that confidence has been all but stripped from them.
Having reshaped his squad over the summer, the former Barnsley and Leeds United manager is still struggling to fashion a side akin to that which did so well when he first arrived in Edinburgh, a notable point on this occasion being that six of those he has brought in could do no better than a seat on the bench.
But, he insisted, for them to win a place in the team they’ll have to step up to the challenge facing them. He said: “They’ve all had game-time pre-season and in the league and they’ll be judged on the pitch.
“We need a real discipline to their game, a real level of performance which is consistent. It’s not difficult or rocket science.
“We don’t want people who perform when we’re performing then when we’re put on the back foot it changes. Some players need to respond better in those situations.”
For Mallan, rediscovering that art of scoring goals having failed to do so against Motherwell and Killie will rekindle confidence and start bringing results.
“That was one of our strong points last season,” he said. “When the manager first arrived, we scored four away at Dundee and were creating chances and being more ruthless.
“That’s one thing we are lacking. Being ruthless. We can dominate teams, but we need to score. It happened at Kilmarnock. We dominate the ball and don’t score and they hit us on the break with one long ball. It worked for them, but it was our wrong doing.
“We need to address it. We’ve played the way the manager wanted and a defensive error has left us 1-0 down. Then we push on for an equaliser and they do us again for 2-0.
“The second didn’t change matters. The first was more important. We didn’t change how we played, but we need goals and we’re lacking them at the moment. We need to be more ruthless. We are in a rut just now and it’s not good.”
Kilmarnock (4-2-3-1): Branescu; O’Donnell, Del Fabro, Findlay, Hamalainen; Power, Dicker; McKenzie, El Makrini, Millar (Thomas 88); Brophy (Sow 88). Substitutes not used: Koprivec, Hendrie, Bruce, Wilson, St Clair.
Hibs (4-4-1-1): Marciano; Naismith, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson; Horgan (Doidge 69), Mallan, Hallberg (Newell 77), Vela; Allan; Kamberi. Substitutes not used: Maxwell, James, Jackson, Middleton, Shaw.