The Edinburgh club were given the perfect conditions to make hay just 11 minutes into this encounter when the ever-speedy Martin Boyle broke clear of the Kilmarnock rearguard and tempted the toiling Ash Taylor to make a despairing challenge. The defender brought him down on the edge of the penalty box and referee John Beaton sent him off, before Joe Newell scored following the resultant free-kick, drilling home after his first effort had been saved by Sam Walker.
At that point, with Hibs a goal and a man up with nearly 80 minutes left, it felt like they would kick on and win by a few goals. Quite the opposite happened in a nerve-jangling joust.
Hibs did record a victory, but this 1-0 triumph came with a health warning for those of a green-and-white persuasion. Kilmarnock put on a quite magnificent clinic on how to play with ten men, maintaining a goal threat while keeping their opponents largely at bay, while Hibs spurned the good chances they created to make it a more comfortable assignment.
Hibs never controlled the match despite their numerical supremacy and Derek McInnes’ team can feel aggrieved that they left Edinburgh with nothing but plaudits. While Beaton appeared to get the Taylor decision correct, there was a valid penalty shout for Killie when Chris Cadden collided with Benjamin Chrisene just before the interval. There were dangerous moments in the Hibs penalty box in a frantic second half and the manager could only rue the absence of a big opportunity coming their way, with his players displaying oodles of grit and determination.
“I thought we were good, I thought we were even better with ten men,” McInnes lamented afterwards.
“Going behind with ten men at a place like Easter Road was going to be a real challenge for us. But I thought the better team lost the game, to be honest.”
There would have been few complaints had Kilmarnock forced a draw and it would have been just punishment for Hibs’ profligacy in front of goal. The main culprits were Elie Youan and Momodou Bojang, with Youan blazing over after good work from Newell and then Bojang completely fluffing his line when sent one-on-one with Walker. The Gambian’s shot was so tame and epitomised a lack of ruthlessness in this Hibs team.
Manager Lee Johnson – forced to watch from home due to gall bladder surgery earlier in the week – will hope that Harry McKirdy, a deadline-day signing from Swindon Town, can add some bite to his forward line. Youan and Bojang are yet to score in green-and-white. McKirdy came on after 51 minutes and missed a good opportunity himself with a diving header, although given the week’s he’s had with his transfer, the 26-year-old is exonerated here.
Regardless of such wastefulness, Hibs did well not to get jittery – the fans inside Easter Road were a nervous wreck towards the end – and hold on for the win. Midfielder Newell was the best of a fairly average bunch. Yet this is a really important victory for the club as it means they remain just two points off third place in a congested midriff of the table. They took advantage of both Hearts and Aberdeen dropping points, but one suspects shooting drills will be on the agenda next week at training.