In the wake of another stinging result for Hibernian, Nick Montgomery must pick his side up for the test of fourth-placed Kilmarnock at Easter Road.

The two sides have met already this season in Montgomery’s first Hibs outing, with goals from Kyle Vassell and Joe Wright pegging Hibs back after Will Dennis turned into his own net and Dylan Vente doubled the advantage.

The second-half struggle  was a sign of things to come from a Hibs side who have found themselves in a rut of throwing games from positions of strength. Three points is a must for Montgomery and his players, but what can they expect from Kilmarnock? With the aid of our partners at StatsBomb, we put Killie under the microscope.


Kilmarnock made a statement of their intent early in the Premiership season, with a Brad Lyons goal striking Rangers with an opening day hammer blow at Rugby Park.  The Ayrshire club have since knocked Celtic out of the Viaplay Cup, and maintained strong form to climb into the top four sides in the division.  

Strong recruitment has aided this, with Killie’s new men including two former Hibs players Kyle Magennis and Matty Kennedy, while Robbie Deas, Stuart Findlay, and Marley Watkins have also added undoubted quality to the side. Something  Montgomery and his players can take comfort from, however, is their opponents' away form.

A ropey record on the road dragged Kilmarnock into a relegation scrap last season and is something they’ve struggled to shake off, taking only two from a possible 15 points, the joint-worst record in the league. Kilmarnock have primarily lined up in variations of a 3-5-2, although they have also times utilised a 4-5-1 at times and used a 4-4-2 in last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Motherwell and their previous encounter with Hibs.

Should Kilmarnock continue to use a back four it will likely comprise of Deas, Findlay, Joe Wright, and Lewis Mayo, who are all comfortable playing at centre-back, full, or in a defensive three. Lyons will sit slightly deeper in the midfield, partnered with David Watson, alongside Kennedy and Daniel Armstrong on either flank, though Liam Polworth could come in should the formation be altered.

Watkins and Vassell have been the preferred strike partnership so far this season, though Innes Cameron could replace the latter, after bagging the winner last time out following Vassell’s injury.

How do they play?

In a word, direct. McInnes’ has installed a clear tactical identity at Kilmarnock and is one that has obvious similarities to the sides he managed at Aberdeen. While they have been adaptable in terms of formation, a direct attacking approach combined with a deep and compact defence has remained.

The 1-0 win over Motherwell at the weekend gives us an insight into Killie’s principles of play. The majority of attacking moves came from wide areas and set pieces, while players were disciplined enough to get large numbers back to defend. While McInnes’ brand of football can incite jibes from football purists, the performance against Motherwell showed its benefits, as they restricted their opponent to one shot on target, compared to nine of their own.

The passing network graphic below shows the average positions players picked up during the 2-2 with Hibs, how they linked with each other, and helps demonstrate some of Kilmarnock’s key principles of play.

It clearly shows a deep and narrow back four, while the direct approach can be seen by a lack of passes in the central midfield areas in comparison to the strikers and wingers. Vassell and Watkins are both playing very close together to win high balls from the defence, aiming to flick the ball onto either Kennedy or Armstrong as they make supporting runs. 

In their last away outing to St Johnstone, we can see how Killie operate with a 3-5-2.

The back three remain slightly deeper on the park, whilst the longer arrows indicate a continuation of the long-ball approach we expect. Interestingly, as two of the midfielders sat deeper, Watson pushed higher to support the two strikers and appeared very close to them on the pitch, while Armstrong offered closer wide support, and Kennedy a different option for a switch on the other side. This shows the intent of creating an overload in these areas, aiming to retain possession from a long ball up the pitch and initiate moves from there. Against Aberdeen, it was a similar case with some alternation in players, but a clear intent to get bodies forward for the second ball.

Vassell’s opening goal against Aberdeen is an example of this approach. A goal kick from Dennis finds David Watson who wins the header to flick the ball into the path of Armstrong (offscreen).

Vassell makes a supporting run in Armstrong’s direction, who wins the aerial duel with Jack MacKenzie.

This sends the ball into Vassell’s path inside the box, who then cuts inside brilliantly and fires home from just inside the box.

Another attacking approach is through shots from distance with Kilmarnock attempting as many as 62 shots from outside the box, dwarfing the 42 taken by Hibs. Armstrong, in particular, often looks to cut in off the flank for a pop at goal. It should be noted however that Hibs have found the net with two of these, while Kilmarnock’s 62 have yet to cross the line.

The graphic below shows how Kilmarnock rank compared to the rest of the league in terms of attacking success, with the most notable statistic being a 0.45xG from set pieces, the highest in the Premiership.

Meanwhile, this shows their performance defensively, ranking among the league’s top performers for clear shots conceded at just 1.17 per game.


The most obvious weakness for Kilmarnock seems to be, simply, travelling away from Rugby Park.. The only team with comparable woes on the road is a St Johnstone side yet to score away from home. Killie’s away day struggles can also be shown by the fact that they’re the only team  Saints have managed to beat all season in the league. Nine goals conceded from just five matches is a worrying stat for McInnes, who must be completely baffled at his side's inability to pick up points outside Ayrshire.

Another area that could be considered a weakness is retaining possession, with the visitors ranking among the lowest in terms of passes per game, something that may suit a possession-based Hibs side. If Hibs manage to restrict the wide threat of Armstrong and Kennedy, this will greatly limit the threat posed by their opposition, with Kilmarnock’s centre midfielders boasting just two combined assists.

Finally, one that will be music to Montgomery’s ears is a lack of pace defensively. A back four of Deas, Findlay, Mayo, and Wright offers many things but a sharp turn of pace is not at the top of that list. It’s hard to imagine that whoever is matching one of Martin Boyle, Elie Youan or Jair Tavares will be able to match their sharp turn of pace. These players often provide Hibs’ creative spark, and their influence could likely determine the outcome of the match once again.