Given that he goes by the nickname of "Nutsy", it was perhaps appropriate that in the build-up to the trip to Ayrshire, Pat Fenlon had urged his beleaguered Hibernian side to "show some balls" in the heat of the relegation dogfight they are currently embroiled in.

Admittedly, it conjures up some fairly appalling imagery but then the Edinburgh side's defensive performances of late have made for gruesome viewing. With their team having shipped nine goals in their previous two league outings and conceded more on the road – 28 prior to kick-off – than any other SPL side, the travelling fans have been getting used to hands-over-the-eyes stuff at the back.

There was no need to panic yesterday, though. The Easter Road manager's band of loan rangers – six of the Irishman's temporary signings featured in his starting 11 – took their manager's harsh words to heart and carved out an ultimately comfortable and potentially crucial victory that hoisted them three points clear of Dunfermline at the bottom of the table and gained some revenge for the 4-1 defeat they suffered at Rugby Park in August. For Kilmarnock it was very much a case of what a difference seven days makes.

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Last weekend, they were celebrating a 1-0 victory over Rangers at Ibrox, but this reverse followed hard on the heels of a 4-0 midweek trouncing against Dundee United.

Fenlon said: "This was very pleasing. The players did all that we asked them to do. After the midweek defeat [4-3 to Motherwell] we asked the players to focus on the positives as there were plenty of them. They brought that into the game today and the first 45 minutes was the best we've played in my time here. You need to have belief and you could see the players growing in confidence."

The opening spell was characterised by a lack of cohesion and composure from both sides as the ball was battered hither and thither without any real purpose or direction. Amid the scrappy exchanges, it was Hibernian who managed to forge an advantage after 17 minutes.

Leigh Griffiths dinked a dangerous pass into the area from the right and Tom Soares shrugged off the attentions of Lee Johnson all too easily with a neat turn before arrowing a low finish into the corner from six yards.

Buoyed by that breakthrough, Hibs grew in stature and, as a ragged Kilmarnock continued to toil, the visitors should have gone in for the interval at least a couple of goals to the good.

Just after the half hour, the sprightly Griffiths burst through only for his drive to be blocked by Cammy Bell. With the Kilmarnock goalkeeper still dragging himself to his feet, the loose ball, which had spun into the air, was weakly headed back into his grateful clutches by the lurking Soares. A few moments later, a raking punt upfield from Jorge Claros was brought down superbly in his stride by Griffiths but, having charged clear, his powerful strike was again beaten away by the busy Bell.

Having thwarted Hibs from close range, Bell would be left flapping at thin air from distance just a minute into the second period as the visitors doubled their lead in spectacular fashion.

As the ball bounced around some 25 yards from goal, Roy O'Donovan swivelled and unleashed an effort which caught Bell slightly too far off his line and soared into the top corner. Hibs were coasting now and they effectively sealed the points after 66 minutes. Isaiah Osbourne managed to throw over a low cross from the right and Soares, standing in splendid isolation just inside the box, thrashed the ball into the bottom corner.

Kilmarnock were in complete tatters, but did deny their guests what would have been just a fifth clean sheet in the league this season. With seven minutes remaining, Dean Shiels curled a delightful free-kick into the postage stamp from the edge of the area to provide a moment of brief consolation.

That prompted a belated rally from Kilmarnock in the closing stages but it was all too little, too late, and despite the odd moment of danger, the Hibs defence comfortably staved off the menacing advances.

"I can have no complaints as Hibs were the team doing all the good things today," said Kilmar-nock manager Kenny Shiels. "This left a big question mark over our strength of character."

On the evidence of this performance, it's the Kilmarnock players who now need to show some balls.