ULISES DE LA CRUZ had recovered sufficiently from his gruelling trip home after international duty with Ecuador to claim a place in the starting line-up.
Hibs’ £700,000 record signing only returned to Easter Road from the Colombian capital of Bogota 24 hours before kick-off but showed he had shaken off the effects of jet-lag after only three minutes as he exchanged passes with Mathias Jack and unleashed a long-range shot which took a deflection to win Hibs their first corner of the match.
And with it almost came the first goal, Craig Brewster hooking John O’Neil’s cross down into the ground, the ball bouncing wickedly and threatening to go over the head of goalkeeper Mark Brown until he pushed up a hand to divert it over his bar.
Motherwell had perceived that the long ball over the top might test the pace of the Hibs defence and Karl Ready did so with a huge clearance which went over the head of Franck Sauzee – but there was keeper Nick Colgan to take it off the head of Stuart Elliott.
De la Cruz, who began the match operating in a more central role as Alen Orman patrolled the right touchline, sent a snap shot wide from 22 yards before Motherwell, seeking their first win of the season, stunned Hibs by opening the scoring.
Referee Stuart Dougal saw nothing wrong in a lunge from behind by Ready which half-caught Brewster in the centre-circle, waving play on to allow Martyn Corrigan to launch another long ball, again in the direction of Elliott. The Northern Ireland internationalist gathered the ball and was then wrestled to the ground by Smith, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot.
Colgan guessed correctly in diving to his right but David Kelly’s shot was inch-perfect as claimed his third goal of the season.
Motherwell’s joy, however, was short-lived as Hibs equalised two minutes later – again from the penalty spot. Ulrik Laursen and Tam McManus played a great one-two on the left, allowing the big Dane to charge into the penalty area where he was flattened by Kevin Twaddle. Sauzee made no mistake from 12 yards out, sending Brown to his right as the ball went low to his left.
Incredibly, Hibs found themselves with a second penalty in the 31st minute as Jack and O’Neil carved open the home defence. As the German burst into the penalty area to collect O’Neil’s cute backheel he was clearly tripped by Scott Leitch.
Sauzee stepped up, but to his horror his spot-kick, aimed straight down the middle, crashed off the chest of Brown. The Hibs skipper looked favourite to hammer the rebound home but appeared to take his eye off the ball and it slipped under his foot to be cleared.
Within three minutes of the restart it was Hibs took the lead for the first time. Dougal did well to spot Ready tugging Brewster’s jersey 20 yards out and although the Motherwell defensive wall could have been no more than seven yards away, Sauzee stepped up to make up for his earlier spot-kick miss by curling a glorious right-foot shot in off the underside of the bar.
Hibs secured the three points in the 64th minute after Leitch pulled back Orman as the Hibs star burst past him. Sauzee’s free-kick broke off Paco Luna and into the path of Paul Fenwick who drilled a low shot into the net just inside Brown’s left-hand post.
It was just the cushion Hibs needed as they sought only their second win of the season and the big Canadian defender was clearly delighted to collect his second goal in as many games as he careered away pointing to his left foot.