Kilmarnock 0, Hibs 3: Hibees move up to third spot
Hibs might have suffered a few Hallowe'en scares, but their trip to Rugby Park turned out to be a real treat, the Easter Road club clocking up their third successive win in the top flight of Scottish football for the first time in almost four years as they overcame Kilmarnock 3-0.
A stunning header from John McGinn and the poacher’s instinct of Simon Murray earned the Capital outfit the points, Martin Boyle putting the icing on the cake as he broke away to add a third deep into added on time.
And goalkeeper Ofir Marciano ensured yet another clean sheet to go with those he clocked up against Hearts and Motherwell with a string of vital stops when Hibs only had that tenth minute goal from the midfielder to protect.
While he earned his shut-out, Marciano also had a couple of strokes of luck, Killie midfielder Rory McKenzie clipping the post and then Kris Boyd sending in a header which came down off the underside of the bar to safety ,although Hibs skipper David Gray had also earlier seen a header come back off the woodwork.
Those incidents, though, will matter little to head coach Neil Lennon and his players, this victory lifting them into third place in the Premiership table, ahead of both Rangers and Motherwell.
Already without Anthony Stokes, Liam Fontaine, Darren McGregor and Danny Swanson, Hibs suffered another injury blow with Steven Whittaker ruled out with a back problem, club skipper Gray taking over at right back in an otherwise unchanged side.
The Capital outfit arrived at Rugby Park to face a Kilmarnock side buoyed by back-to-back draws at Ibrox, ready for new boss Steve Clarke’s first home match and knowing a win would lift them away from the foot of the Premiership table.
Lennon reverted to the formation which had proved too good for Hearts a week earlier, deploying Boyle and Brandon Barker on the flanks to exploit their lightning pace and it paved dividends in only ten minutes.
Paul Hanlon’s inch-perfect crossfield ball found Gray, who exchanged passes with Boyle before whipping in a superb cross which the inrushing McGinn met to power an unstoppable header beyond Killie goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald for his fourth goal of the season.
The home side had been caught cold and they almost conceded a second when a mix-up between MacDonald and Kirk Broadfoot threatened to present Boyle with a gift but, just in time, Stuart Findlay came in with a goal-saving clearance.
The woodwork came to Killie’s rescue minutes later, Gray almost dropping to his knees to meet McGinn’s corner at the back post, only to see his header came back off the base of MacDonald’s right hand post.
Jordan Jones, scorer of Killie’s equaliser against Celtic at the weekend, demonstrated his own turn of pace as he raced 60 yards into Hibs penalty area, but he was matched all the way by the backtracking Lewis Stevenson, who produced a fantastically timed tackle as he prepared to pull the trigger.
It was Hibs turn to be knocked out of their stride and they, too, had the woodwork to thank – twice – as they remained that one goal to the good.
They Ayrshire side had taken the upper hand and McKenzie had goalkeeper Marciano seemingly beaten with a long-range shot which clipped the outside of his right-hand post.
And Kilmarnock went even closer to claiming that equaliser when veteran striker Boyd got his head to Greg Taylor’s cross, his effort beating Marciano but coming off the underside of the bar and bouncing down onto the line before being cleared.
Hibs had proved dab hands at holding onto a one-goal lead against both Hearts and Motherwell, but again Lennon would have been looking for that all-important second goal to give them a bit of a cushion and to allow him to relax just that little bit.
This was Hibs’ fourth match in just ten days and with Lennon’s squad looking rather thin given the injury situation, it was beginning to show a little as Kilmarnock went close again four minutes after the interval.
Boyd looked certain to score when he met Jones low cross only six yards out, but this side-footed effort crashed off the imposing frame of Marciano, the Israeli internationalist then getting two strong hands to a thunderbolt of a free-kick from the striker from all of 30 yards.
If Marciano was to keep a clean sheet for a third successive match then he was certainly going to have to earn it as he was called into making a third crucial save in the first 11 minutes of the second half, this time touching Jones rising shot over.
Lennon’s options for change were severely limited, with youngsters occupying four of the berths on the substitutes’ bench alongside goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw and Lithuanian internationalists Vykintas Slivka and Deivydas Matulevicius.
But just as he was perhaps contemplating shoring things up Lennon – and the travelling support – were able to breathe just that little bit easier as Murray, who had been asked to plough a lone furrow up-front, claimed his 12th of the season on the hour mark.
The flame-haired hitman displayed all his predatory instincts, sliding in to knock the ball home from a couple of yards out after Gray had turned McGinn’s searching cross-field pass across the face of MacDonald’s goal to meet the striker at the back post.
The game had swung again and Hibs almost got a third to put it totally beyond Killie when Murray stepped over McGinn’s pass, his dummy catching Boyle coming in behind him by surprise, his first touch allowing MacDonald to come and gather.
Managers often talk of those wafer-thin moments which turn games and no doubt Clarke would have been reflecting on the bad luck, the poor finishing and Marciano’s vital saves as reason enough as to why this match had slipped away from his side.
On the other hand, they’d come up against a Hibs team which has found a resilience, a determination and desire to win no matter what.
Killie, however, weren’t giving up, Marciano punching away substitute Lee Erwin’s header from a free-kick.
Lennon, as pragmatic as ever, moved to ensure his side held what they had, teenage defender Ryan Porteous replacing Barker who had been a peripheral figure for much of the game, the youngster slotting in alongside Efe Ambrose and Hanlon, while Slivka brought his more defensive qualities to midfield in place of McGinn.
And in the third minute of added-on time, Boyle broke away to slide the ball beyond MacDonald to put an extra bit of gloss on another impressive win for the Hibees.