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Kilmarnock 1 Hibernian 1: Hibs defender stands his ground against appeal for penalty

IN the midst of a turgid battle on a Rugby Park pitch which resembled a set from Braveheart, polite conversation broke out amid the howls and screams from those on the periphery, with two of the leading protagonists in this epic coming together for a cordial chat.

It was a surreal moment given the carnage which enveloped Kilmarnock's 1-1 draw with Hibernian on Saturday. With the encounter finely poised after Rory McKenzie's opener had been trampled on by the visitors' Danny Haynes, Kris Boyd threw caution, and, according to the referee Craig Thomson, himself, to the wind as he collapsed in the box under a challenge from Michael Nelson. After steadying himself again, the Kilmarnock forward sought out reassurance in the unlikely figure of the man accused of cutting him down. His reply was diplomatic if not unpredictable.

"Boydy's clever, he always waits for you to come," said Nelson, the Hibs defender. " And rather than you going into the back of him, he'll step backwards and make the contact. I just jumped above him, he's flipped it and the ball hit me in the face.

"Boydy asked me straight away if I thought it was a penalty and I said I didn't think it was one, but don't get me wrong I wouldn't have been surprised if the referee had given it. Nothing surprises me at the minute."

His dismay was understandable given that the upper hand Hibs enjoyed for most of this match, in particular the second half, failed to seize on Kilmarnock's increasing nervousness.

Up 1-0 at half-time, the momentum built by the home side was eroded slowly as their visitors dealt better with the hazardous Rugby Park pitch. The Easter Road side's persistence in the game could and should have been rewarded if not for some desperate defending from Manuel Pascali, Boyd and a collection of others, while Kilmarnock's reply was limited to heavy touches and poor passes.

The pursuit of a top-six place is big business in the SPFL Premiership, with Kilmarnock now virtually bust in the race to catch sixth-place St Johnstone. While the Ayrshire side's attention is focused on making sure they do not slip into the relegation play-off spot, Hibs harbour hopes of squeezing into the top half of the league. While this draw brings them level with the Perth club, goal difference excludes them from the top six, a fact which is causing discomfort for Nelson. "I don't think we really tested their keeper," he added.

There was little satisfaction for Kilmarnock, either, with just three points separating them from 11th-place St Mirren. The two teams meet on Saturday in Paisley and McKenzie had hoped to set off from a stronger position in the league.

"It's a chance missed, big time," said the Kilmarnock forward. "It feels like a defeat just now, but with the position we're in every point counts."

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