Hibs aim to prove that dark days are behind them as they revisit Rugby Park
Like the flickering floodlights at Rugby Park, Hibs’ season was threatened with being plunged into darkness.
Two goals down and facing a sixth match without a win, the only salvation back at the beginning of December appeared to be in the power problems at Kilmarnock’s ground.
Twice the lights went out only to be restored and the match finally ended at 5.20pm, only by then Greg Stewart had added a third goal to Eamonn Brophy’s first-half double to cap what most agreed was the worst performance of the season from a Hibs side then under the charge of Neil Lennon.
“We could have taken any of the players off at half-time and they could have had no complaints,” insisted Lennon’s assistant Garry Parker, a view with which few would have disagreed.
However, the club has been re-energised with new head coach Paul Heckingbottom at the wheel, a top six finish – which looked beyond them as they slipped to eighth on that day in Ayrshire – secured with a game to spare although hope of a potential Europa League place vanished as a ten-match unbeaten run came to an end at Ibrox against Rangers last weekend.
As such, tomorrow’s return visit to Rugby Park to face a team still battling it out with Aberdeen for third place and an automatic European spot, may appear somewhat meaningless.
But, insisted winger Daryl Horgan, the memory of that dismal display can help drive any thoughts of simply going through the motions from the minds of his and his team-mates.
“That was a bad one,” he recalled. “We were beaten 3-0 and we were beaten comprehensively as well.
“But to be fair, there were a few bad games during that run, a few disappointing ones, but that was right up there. You’re 2-0 down and it gets to the stage where you’re nearly hoping and wondering if the game might be called off.
“At the time, we were actually building up a little momentum and getting into the game and it looked like we might get something. Then the lights went off and that momentum goes.
“When the game starts again you’re trying to build up more momentum and the lights are cut again. You’re 2-0 down with ten minutes to go, would you take a replay? Yeah.
“So it wasn’t ideal. We didn’t deserve anything from the game but that didn’t help.”
Stuart Findlay’s late strike at Tynecastle last Saturday pushed Killie to a record 61 points but while acknowledging they have had a fantastic season, Republic of Ireland internationalist Horgan insisted Hibs have to find their own way to emulate that success.
He said: “The run we went on around November and December really hampered us. But the past two or three months have been unbelievable really, we’ve been playing great stuff and winning games, which is the priority.
“I suppose it’s the work the manager and Robbie [Stockdale] have done, everyone has bought straight into it.
“We seem to have a good system, a good way of playing, everyone pressing and playing football along the deck, through the lines and things like that. All that kind of stuff has been massive. We don’t really have to look at Kilmarnock and say ‘They’ve done brilliantly, we need to do that. We need to do it in our own way and try to get the level we need to get to the way we play.
“Kilmarnock have had a fantastic season, Steve Clarke rightly got Manager of the Year. With the resources they have it isn’t easy, but he’s brought in a very good team, they play a good style of football and a hard style to play against as well.
“They are rightly up there, the table doesn’t lie, they have been very, very good.
“You want to get right up there, you want to challenge everyone and get us high up the table as you possibly can. That’ll be the aim next year.”
And Horgan believes the coming pre-season will be vital in that regard saying, “Right now we’re still trying to build into games and whatever opposition we have. But when you have that month, month and a half to work on yourself and how you want to play that could be fantastic.”