HIBS had Derek Riordan to thank for a delightful double amongst a far from immaculate performance from Tony Mowbray’s men at Easter Road, which nevertheless maintained their grip on third place ahead of Dunfermline.
The hosts, for all their possession, were too often found wanting. Exhilarating though many of their surges upfield were, too often a potentially decisive delivery was so easily picked off by a Pars defender. Too often, a fine build-up was knocked down when ambition overrode sensibility.
Only intermittently did gaps appear. Riordan’s 17th minute opener was superb but it was almost an exception. Steven Whittaker held up possession before dishing off to Garry O’Connor. There was something instinctive about the manner in which he fed his strike partner just outside the box, and likewise Riordan was as unflinching as his peroxide quiff, slotting with absolute precision into Allan McGregor’s top corner to claim his 12th goal of the campaign. Likewise, his decisive strike was delivered by set piece rather than by careful graft, his free kick swirling around the wall and off the inside of the post.
Dunfermline attempted to draw level when Bartosz Tarachulski rocked Simon Brown back on his heels with an early header.
When Simon Donnelly replaced the hobbled Andy Tod in the 33rd minute, he wasted no time in nonchalantly eroding Hibs’ advantage. Yannick Zambernardi drifted a free kick on to the head of Tarachulski. The Pole’s flick on could, and probably should, have been expelled by Gary Caldwell but he dallied too long, affording Donnelly the space to set his sights on the bottom corner and rifle past Brown with ridiculous ease.
That was hardly likely to endear Caldwell to a home support which surely viewed their captain with indifference after he had agreed to sign for Celtic ahead of the summer. Dunfermline, depleted by injury and illness, did not make his task easy.
The effort and skill of Stephen Glass and Kevin Thomson in midfield could not be faulted but too often they made the wrong decision.
Thomson, shortly after his side took their initial lead, blew past Lee Makel and Zambernardi as if they were ghosts but rather than laying off, he ran into a cul de sac. Likewise Glass repeatedly evaded the visitors on the left but failed to provide a telling pass.
Mowbray did not wait until long after the interval to introduce Ivan Sproule and Steven Fletcher along side Riordan. His charges may have broken the stalemate sooner had Greg Shields not bundled Scott Brown over when he embarked on a piercing excursion which took him within sight of goal. Riordan’s free kick was timid but when afforded a further opportunity 20 minutes from the end, he made no mistake.
From then on, a hat-trick beckoned and Jim Leishman’s men became more desperate in their resistance. It was Fletcher though who applied the finishing touch. He gambolled away on the left before letting rip from over 25 metres, his punishing volley zipping into the net.