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Kilmarnock v Hibernian: Williams suffers in silence as Fenlon and Shiels opt to keep quiet

Ben Williams sat down with all the weariness of a man who has been carrying the weight of a particularly heavy silence around with him all week.

Kenny Shiels has adopted a more withdrawn approach
Kenny Shiels has adopted a more withdrawn approach

It has been an awkward burden, not least as the Hibernian goalkeeper has been reminded of it every time he has bumped into Pat Fenlon at training. He will hope to ease the tension with his manager by impressing against Kilmarnock tomorrow.

There has been a somewhat uncomfortable atmosphere about the club given the capitulation Hibs suffered last week as they threw away a 2-0 lead at home to Motherwell, and one which has been felt acutely by Williams. Conceding three times inside 25 mad minutes will always bring scrutiny on a goalkeeper and, while Fenlon's ire went unspoken after the game, it was articulated clearly during a withering silence; one which was likely intensified by a run of just one win in five matches in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

It is the sort of form which would have been hard to comprehend during Hibs' brisk start to the campaign, one which took them to the summit of the table. It is also quite unthinkable at Williams' first club: Manchester United.

The goalkeeper never made a competitive appearance but he got close enough to experience one of the drawbacks of being in the limelight at Old Trafford. He was just 20 when he was named among the substitutes during a match at Chelsea, a contest in which United would trail 2-1 at half-time following an unsightly gaffe by Roy Carroll. The reaction from Sir Alex Ferguson doesn't bear thinking about and has been hard to forget for Williams, even though he was an innocent bystander.

He was spared a similar response from Fenlon last week but the silent treatment has proven to be just as effective. "It's been drilled into me coming through at Old Trafford that if you make a mistake you get told about it, with the 'hairdryer' treatment or whatever," said Williams. "I never had the 'hairdryer' directed at me but I saw it directed elsewhere and the first time you see it, it takes you back a bit. You can rant and rave or you can sit in silence – and that can have just as much effect. Pat Fenlon, after the game last week, could have ranted and raved at all of us . . . but we were not worth his words and sometimes silence works."

At times yesterday it felt as though Kenny Shiels might have been trying that out for himself. The Kilmarnock manager has had his knuckles rapped so often this season for comments he has made it has left him feeling tender, a three-match touchline ban pulling him from the dug out tomorrow and also making the Northern Irishman appear withdrawn in front of the media.

It is easy to sympathise with Shiels – his honesty has not been regarded as the best policy by Vincent Lunny, the SFA compliance officer – and there was a sense yesterday that he has simply grown tired of the reaction to his remarks, as well as the trips to Hampden which have followed of late. "I don't want to talk about bans or anything like that, I don't want to talk about anything that is immoral or unethical. I just want to talk about the football," he said.

There will be plenty of opportunity for that over the festive period, with Hibs the opening episode of a four-match series running until January 2. Kilmarnock have operated on the fringes of the top six of late but could find themselves back amid the European places by the start of the new year if they can find consistency somewhere among the Christmas decorations. It is a test comparable to that facing Hibs, although Shiels suggested that it feels far greater to his side.

"It's a big challenge for us," said the Kilmarnock manager, who will be without the suspended Liam Kelly tomorrow. "There are four heavyweights outside of Celtic and Hibs are one of them. We are certainly boxing above our weight."

It is a bantam Hibs striker who stands the best chance of giving the Ayrshire side a bloody nose tomorrow, though, even if Leigh Griffiths has failed to score in his last five outings. That has tarnished a goal-per-game record he had fostered throughout the start of the season, but Michael Nelson is reluctant to take his eye off him all the same. "He likes to flit around and drift into little pockets of space, he's hard to pick up," said the Kilmarnock defender. "It's tough."

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