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Hibernian 0 Kilmarnock 1: A watershed moment

HIBS declined the chance to have this match televised and in retrospect that was probably a wise decision.

Kris Boyd again proved to the key figure for Kilmarnock as his goal moved Hibs to the edge of the precipice		   Photograph: SNS
Kris Boyd again proved to the key figure for Kilmarnock as his goal moved Hibs to the edge of the precipice Photograph: SNS

Surrendering tamely at home in a loser-lose-all encounter with Kilmarnock to end up in the relegation play-off was embarrassing enough without the eyes of the nation being trained on you. So low was morale at Easter Road yesterday that it appeared as though Hibs' players, staff and supporters thought they had already been relegated.

At his press conference during the week, Terry Butcher had perhaps unwisely joked about having his entire day planned out, including choreographed celebrations when Hibs duly saved their Premiership status. Suffice to say he didn't have all this in mind. A few hundred fans gathered outside the main stand at Easter Road post-match for an extended demonstration against chairman Rod Petrie, the board and Butcher himself, refusing to leave until Petrie departed the building.

All their worst fears had been realised by a brave Kilmarnock team, with a solitary Kris Boyd goal two minutes before half-time enough to condemn them to the dreaded two-legged play-off.

While this day belonged to the Rugby Park club, who secured a ninth-place finish, the statistics of Hibs' demise are utterly startling. They have taken one point out of the last 24 available, and have won just once in their last 19 matches. Arguably worse is the fact they have scored just three goals in the last 10 games, and 31 in the league this season. While Butcher insisted he wouldn't quit, an ashen-faced captain Liam Craig admitted the supporters were being short-changed.

"You wonder how it got to this - I keep asking myself that question," said Craig. "You hear the fans out there, and they deserve better. They were excellent today and they have been for weeks. We've let them down but we've let ourselves down as well, we've let the club down. We've got to realise the expectations of this club are a lot higher than we've been showing. But we're not down yet - that's the only positive we can take from the day."

Butcher, whose side have dropped from the seventh spot they held when he took over in late November, added: "I still see myself being here for the long haul but we have two games to try to rectify the wrongs of the previous 38. There have been some highlights of that 38 games but not that many. We have two games left against fresh opposition, hopefully we can get one or two injured players back into the frame, and we will go from there. We have got to pick ourselves up."

Hibs did have some changes yesterday, though they largely fell to midfielders. Scott Robertson's low angled effort was well saved by Craig Samson, and the same player's header was cleared off the line by Barry Nicholson whilst the match was still goalless. Their chances of getting the win they required effectively came and went when a fine strike from Craig rebounded from the bar.

If Kilmarnock displayed greater efficiency, even they could have had more goals yesterday. Boyd had had a goal disallowed, perhaps unfairly, by the time he latched onto a driven low cross from the excellent Ross Barbour to steer a crisp half volley into the bottom corner of Ben Williams' net. More fine work from Barbour almost led to a headed second for the same player, while Rory McKenzie and Alexei Eremenko could also have given the visitors breathing space.

While Hibs players dropped to their haunches as boos rang out at full-time, Kilmarnock's jubilant players threw jerseys to their excellent visiting support, with the hope springing eternal that this suddenly debt-free club can now move on under new ownership next season.

Whether Boyd, due in for a tidy-up operation on his ankle next week which may keep him out of contention for Scotland's friendly against Nigeria, will be a part of it or not is anyone's guess.

"Kris is a massive player for us," said Johnston. "And you've got to try and keep your best players. I am sure there will be lots of clubs wanting him but he is a Kilmarnock lad, I know he's happy here and we can only try our best."

With Rangers and Hearts also credited with an interest, perhaps a move to Tynecastle makes the most sense. His popularity with the citizens of Gorgie has never been greater.

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