KILMARNOCK striker Paul Heffernan hopes to keep alive his side’s bid for a cup double with victory over Hibs.
The Irishman caught the eye with a performance that oozed creativity as Killie won a place in the Scottish Communities League Cup final last weekend and will today aim to help his side reach the last eight of the William Hill Scottish Cup by winning at Easter Road.
Hibs will be wary of Heffernan, who has amassed a record of almost a goal every two games since ending a 12-year stint in English football to move to the SPL. But the Killie hitman has admiration for his opposite number, Garry O’Connor, whom he cites as the greatest threat to Killie’s record of just one loss in their past six games. The opposing strikers are the most likely source of goals and have experienced similar fortunes this season.
O’Connor hit ten goals in his first 11 games since returning to Easter Road, and Heffernan struck eight goals in his opening six north of the Border. Both have failed to fuel their early-season fire, stoking the embers only intermittently in recent months. In their past 12 games, each marksman has hit the net just twice.
The mantle of main threat to the opposition has been passed from O’Connor to Leigh Griffiths in recent weeks, with the on-loan Wolves striker having struck four goals in his past three games, and eight in the past 13. Griffiths is suspended for the visit of Killie, much to the delight of Heffernan. “Obviously O’Connor gets goals, but it’s good that Leigh Griffiths is suspended,” said 30-year-old Heffernan. “Our manager will pick out a few of their strong points and will make us very aware of the dangers of their team.”
Hibs and Kilmarnock were last weekend buoyed by the creativity of the main suppliers of their attacking ammunition. Ivan Sproule shone at Ibrox despite Hibs’ 4-0 loss to Rangers, and his wing counterpart, James Dayton, stole the show across the city as Killie dismissed First Division club Ayr United at Hampden. Dayton was substituted late on in that game, but Heffernan expects the Rugby Park winger to be available to test Hibs today. “He was brilliant against Ayr, fantastic on the right wing, and that’s what he’s all about. We can give him the ball and he can go past full backs – he can do that all day and we see it every day in training.
“Hopefully, he’ll be OK for the game against Hibs. I think he was just feeling a bit tired in the second half. He’s a big member of the team.”
The gruelling 120-minute slog against their defensive-minded local rivals Ayr, which was rewarded with a Dean Shiels winner and a place in the final of the League Cup, was of great satisfaction to Heffernan. The striker is not so naive as to expect victory against Hibs this afternoon – but he is at least heartened by the prospect of a more open game as Killie bid to make progress in a second cup competition. “Ayr played with ten men behind the ball, so we needed that extra half hour to break them down, but we’re happy enough that it’s paid off in the end,” said Heffernan.
“Ayr made it very difficult for us and frustrated us for long parts of the game. I’m sure Hibs won’t do that – they’ll be looking to go and entertain their crowd. Hopefully we can find a few more gaps than we did against Ayr.
“We have another tough game against Hibs and if we win that we are through to the quarter-final. It’s another chance to go on a cup run. As we’ve seen in the League Cup, you never know where that can take you. We’ll be well up for it, as we fancy a crack at the Scottish Cup as well.” Heffernan believes Hibs will take heart from the arrival of a raft of new players in recent weeks. The Easter Road side have won only two of their last 14 games – back-to-back wins last month away Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Cup and Dunfermline in the league – but Heffernan is wary of a host team who are unbeaten in their last five games at home to Killie.
“They’re looking to start picking up results,” said Heffernan. “They obviously won a few weeks ago at Dunfermline, so we know it’s going to be tough. Pat Fenlon has gone in and brought a few players in to try to turn their fortunes around, so it’s going to be a very difficult game for us.”