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Side of beef: Butcher has Hibs primed for new year

The new year will bring new optimism for Hibernian.

Lewis Stevenson and Paul Hanlon both contributed to a robust Hibs performance
Lewis Stevenson and Paul Hanlon both contributed to a robust Hibs performance

Yesterday's triumph over Kilmarnock in the final match before all the Hogmanay hustle and bustle really gets going in Auld Reekie may have been only their third home league win of 2013 but, under Terry Butcher's fist-pumping stewardship, it was another sign of better times for the galvanised Easter Road outfit - and 2014 can not come quickly enough.

They do not have to wait long, of course. With an derby against Hearts on Thursday, these are upbeat times of renewed hope. Kilmarnock, fresh from a 4-0 stroll against Hearts on the other side of the city on Boxing Day, were left slumped on the ropes here as Hibs, spearheaded by the excellent Lewis Stevenson and Paul Cairney, put in a robust, effective display.

"I'd want to play tomorrow," said a grinning Butcher, as he looked forward to his first capital contest. "You win your last game of 2013 and everyone is bubbly and buoyant. You win, you get a happy dressing room. You can't buy that. We have come a long way in a short period and players like Lewis and Paul typify the spirit of the team. They maximise what their strengths are and give really solid performances. The work rate, from everybody, was sensational."

As well as points, there was poignancy. "We wanted this so much for David's family," added Butcher, as he reflected on the death last week of Hibernian youth player David Paul.

When hostilities commenced, there was almost a You've Been Framed! moment as early as the second minute as the hosts made instant inroads on an unsettled Kilmarnock rearguard. As the ball bobbled around the edge of the box, it looked ripe for striking and midfielder Scott Robertson primed himself to pounce. Unfortunately for him, his team-mate Cairney dinked the inviting little white orb out of his line of sight and Robertson ended up swiping at thin air. Cairney was fortunate not to feel the brunt of the follow-through and would have ended up in the Forth had Robertson's thrash connected. It was good to see that Laurel & Hardy can still get work down Leith way.

After those fluffed lines, a rampant Hibernian quickly got back to the script. With pace and purpose, they powered forward. James Collins fired over the crossbar while Jason Cummings unleashed a raking effort which Craig Samson, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper, clasped safely. Samson earned his corn again moments later, palming away a Collins header, but he could do nothing to prevent Hibs breaching the defences in the 11th minute. From Cairney's swinging corner, Paul Hanlon thundered in unhindered to bullet a powerful header into the net.

The rattled guests were struggling to gain any sort of foothold under the bombardment and the Kilmarnock defence was quaking again on 23 minutes when Hibernian launched another raid. A cheeky cross into the six-yard box by Jordon Forster prompted near calamitous hesitation when someone needed to take charge and, amid the dithering, Robertson's attempt was saved at point-blank range by Samson before the loose ball ricocheted wide.

They may have been embroiled in plenty of defensive chores but, with Kris Boyd, Chris Johnston and Michael Gardyne in their ranks, Kilmarnock still possessed plenty of menace, even though it took them a while to threaten. Boyd, who scored twice on his last visit to the capital, on Boxing Day, swivelled and had a shot turned round the post by Ben Williams on the half-hour, before Gardyne blasted narrowly over.

Despite these occasional flurries, it was, by and large, all Hibs. The lively Cairney nutmegged Jeroen Tesselaar in the area and appeared to be grappled to the deck but William Collum swatted aside the boisterous pleas for a penalty, and the referee left the pitch at half-time to a chorus of curses and colourful chants from the cheesed off Hibernian supporters.

Little changed in the pattern of play after the resumption as Hibs continued to plough forward. Stevenson was tireless in his pursuits and a stinging drive which Samson parried, followed by an angled crack which whistled wide, illustrated his desire to add to the tally.

From that feisty opening to the second period, the match descended into a more attritional affair. Hibs kept their shape and looked solid; Kilmarnock huffed, puffed and looked a bit jaded. The points were all but sealed on 76 minutes when Cairney trundled in a shot from the edge of the area which crept in. The lily was then gilded in the last knockings by the impressive Stevenson, whose beautifully struck shot across the sprawling Samson found the far corner. It was a fitting finale for all his, and Hibernian's, endeavours.

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