For once, Kenny Shiels was almost lost for words.

The Kilmarnock manager's regular bletherings over the course of the campaign must have left great swathes of Ayrshire's donkey population looking for their hind legs but, after this dismal defeat by Hibernian, Shiels was largely subdued in his post match analysis. And no wonder. His players had been equally as timid during the encounter and only really showed glimpses of life when Dean Shiels curled in a free-kick with seven minutes remaining.

By then, of course, it was far too late to salvage anything from the wreckage. Hibs had fashioned a three-goal advantage and fully merited a vital victory which lifted them three points clear of bottom-placed Dunfermline.

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Following the 1-0 win over Rangers at Ibrox the previous Saturday, Shiels has now watched his side slump to consecutive defeats in the brief period since. The 4-0 trouncing against Dundee United in mid-week clearly had lingering effects and led to the Northern Irishman questioning the "strength of character" of his players.

They have put in robust performances against either side of the Old Firm this season – they've beaten Rangers twice and given Celtic a run for their money – but lacklustre home defeats in the last month against both Hibs and Dunfermline Athletic, the two bottom clubs in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, have proved infuriating. With a Scottish Communities League Cup final against the all-conquering Parkhead side looming on the horizon, this is the worst time for Kilmarnock to be low on morale.

"I don't know what happened," said Mo Sissoko, Kilmarnock's French defender. "When we play against big teams the players are more motivated but we've been really bad in the last two games. We have to work harder on that side of it.

"I think it's to do with the mentality. When you play against Celtic or Rangers you can see we're playing very well but if we're playing against Dunfermline or Hibernian we must have the same attitude.

"Every player is thinking about the cup final but we have two or three games before that and we must focus on them because, if we think of Hampden too early, then it will be bad for our top six chances."

For Hibernian, dragging themselves away from the solitary relegation place is the chief focus and this triumph, only their fifth in the league all season, has bolstered those ambitions.

From the moment Tom Soares arrowed in a low finish on 17 minutes to give them the lead, the Edinburgh side were in complete command and could have added a couple more to their first-half tally but for the interventions of Cammy Bell, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper. Roy O'Donovan lashed in a spectacular second from 25 yards just after the break before Soares plundered his second with a clinical finish on 66 minutes.

With goals going in at one end, the visitors managed to perform the defensive duties at the other with a doggedness and discipline that has been sorely lacking in recent games. After the 5-0 defeat by Celtic the previous weekend, the Hibs players and their manager, Pat Fenlon, had a clear-the-air summit to galvanise team unity. There was certainly plenty of spirit on show on Saturday.

"We're just like one big family," insisted midfielder, Isaiah Osbourne. "Ivan Sproule helps bring the dressing room together. He sings a bit of Bob Marley and 'Jammin' is his favourite. We had it playing in the changing room. We were all jammin' before and after the game. It was a bit of inspiration."

And music to Fenlon's ears, no doubt.