Kilmarnock ran out comfortable 4-1 winners against a Hibs side that competed for large parts of the match and were perhaps unlucky to lose by such a margin given their performance. However, they were naive defensively, unsurprisingly given the average age of their back four was just twenty-years-old.
Both sides lined up in similar formations. Kenny Shiels replaced James Fowler and Ben Hutchinson with David Silva and Paul Heffernan in a 4-4-1-1-cum-4-2-3-1 formation. Silva and James Dayton were deployed as inverted wingers either side of Heffernan, with Gary Harkins the main playmaker and more advanced of the central midfield three.
Colin Calderwood lined his side up in his familiar 4-2-3-1 system and kept the same personnel that managed to secure the clubs’ first ever victory in Inverness.
Both sides looked to use their wingers as much as possible but it was Silva and Dayton from the home side that were the more deadly. One other noticeable difference between the sides, in an attacking sense, was that, in Harkins, Kilmarnock had a genuine playmaker in the centre of the pitch. His opposite number, Matt Thornhill, although a decent player, doesn’t seem to possess the same penetrative passing or ability to find space between the lines.
Killie pass from the back, Hibs press high
As has become custom for Kilmarnock, their centre backs would drop deep and wide when Cammy Bell had the ball, look to receive a short pass from the Kilmarnock goalkeeper and play out from the back. This can be a high risk strategy and in the first half, Kilmarnock experienced both the benefits and detriments of the approach.
With only three minutes played, the ball was passed along the Kilmarnock back line to Rory McKeown. He made a driving run down the left before curling a direct pass over the top of the Hibs defence and into the path of Heffernan. The Irishman got the ball before the on-rushing Graham Stack to knock the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs.
One way to counter against a side that likes to play the ball out patiently from the back is to press high up the pitch and try to force errors, intercept the ball or else force the side to play it long. The problem is that this in turn carries its own risks. In order to remain compact, pressing high requires the side to hold a high defensive line. This leaves the side in question vulnerable to balls over the top and the like, more so when the opposing side posses a bit of pace in attack. The disappointing thing from a Hibernian perspective is that Heffernan does not seem to be the quickest and the goal must go down as a positional error from Paul Hanlon.
Ten minutes later Hibs responded, exposing the dangers of Kilmarnock’s strategy. A Ryan O’Leary pass was intercepted by Lewis Stevenson, the ball was then worked to Garry O’Conner, who cut into the box and finished in off the post with a lovely chip with the outside of his boot.
There were a few other moments during the match, especially in the first half, where Kilmarnock lived dangerously, forming triangles and passing the ball in and around their own box. After a few of these nervy moments, Kilmarnock began to employ a slightly more direct approach until they took the lead through a Hanlon own-goal after some excellent wing-play from Dayton on the right.
Calderwood switched things at half-time, bringing on Junior Agogo and Isaiah Osbourne for their Hibernian debuts. Thornhill and Stevenson were the players replaced as Hibs moved to a 4-4-1-1 formation with Agogo just off O’Connor in attack.
The Hibernian manager had obviously noticed how vulnerable Kilmarnock had been when playing out from the back at times and perhaps thought that two strikers would put the centre-backs under even more pressure. With the Kilmarnock full-backs pushing on, they could still be picked up by two wide men in Hibs’ midfield four, leaving a 2v2 situation at the back.
The changes worked for Hibs and they kept Kilmarnock in their own half for the majority of the first twenty minutes of the second half, while creating a few opportunities. Osbourne added much to the Hibs midfield, both in a defensive and attacking sense, and looks like he may be a good acquisition for the Easter Road side.
The first two attacks Kilmarnock managed in the second half led to goals and secured the victory. The first saw Danny Buijs break from his right-back area to collect the ball before being felled by Wotherspoon at the edge of the Hibernian box. Dayton duly dispatched the free kick past the helpless Stack.
Minutes later the same pair combined again, this time Dayton fed Buijs on the overlap and his near-post cross was finished by the unmarked Heffernan for his second of the match. The Irishman then missed a glorious opportunity to claim his hat-trick late in the game when he hit the bar from three yards out.
Both sides deployed high risk strategies – Kilmarnock’s passing from the back; Hibs’ high defensive line – and both succumbed to these risks – Kilmarnock conceded when trying to play out from defence, Hibs conceded two first half goals from poor defending while holding a high defensive line.
However, it was Kilmarnock who came out victorious, due in part to some excellent wing-play, but also due to some terrible defending from the away side. An experienced head is definitely needed for the Hibs back line, thus the return of Sean O’Hanlon from injury cannot come quick enough for Calderwood.
The new signings swung the momentum in Hibs’ favour when introduced at half-time and both look to be decent acquisitions. The main worry continues to be the manager himself, again uninspiring in his pre-match interview and again downbeat about the quality of his squad post-match.
Kenny Shiels secured his first victory as Kilmarnock manager and, in contrast to Calderwood, remained confident in both his own ability and that of his squad during that difficult run.
The strategy to play the ball out patiently, given the quality (or lack of quality) they possess remains a risky one. They conceded once as a consequence and experience a few other close-calls that could have led to them conceding more.
At the other end they got the most out of their wingers, especially Dayton, who took advantage of the forward runs of Callum Booth from the Hibernian left-back area and played a part in three of his side’s four goals
Kilmarnock were some peoples' (including my) tip for relegation this year but if they play like this every week they will find themselves fighting for a top six finish again come the end of the season.