FRANCK SAUZEE was no doubt left wondering how a side which had failed to deliver an SPL victory in 11 attempts under him, succeeded first time round for the new man in charge, as Hibs eased their relegation fears with a 3-0 win over St Johnstone.
Ian Murray struck twice in the first half to give new boss Bobby Williamson a dream start as the Hibees extended the gap between themselves and bottom club Saints to 12 points.
Williamson was given a rousing reception at a packed Easter Road as he took his bow before his first match in charge, the size of the crowd crammed inside the ground making a mockery of calls for a boycott in the wake of Sauzee’s sacking.
Williamson got off to the sort of start he could only have dreamed of before this crunch clash between the SPL’s bottom clubs as Murray’s first goal of the season gave Hibs the lead with less than two minutes on the clock. Craig Brewster and Garry O’Connor did all the build-up work on the left, the 18-year-old striker cutting the ball back for the left-back who, from ten yards out, coolly slotted a low shot beyond Saints’ on-loan goalkeeper Ludovic Roy and into the bottom corner of the net.
Saints, trailing Hibs by nine points, were stung by that early setback but they went close to cancelling out Murray’s opener as Paul Hartley’s looping cross landed nicely for Keigan Parker, whose volley from 12 yards dipped over.
O’Connor threw himself at a cross from John O’Neil to send a glancing header well wide before former Hibs ace Paul Kane became the first player to be booked after he went in late on Mathias Jack in the 25th minute.
Murray joined him in referee John Rowbotham’s book three minutes later as he brought Parker crashing down and seconds afterwards the Saints striker himself was shown the yellow card for taking a blatant dive under the challenge of Gary Smith.
Ex-Jambo Grant Murray thought he had brought Saints level in the 33rd minute as he latched on to a loose ball 20 yards out to fire in a volley which beat Nick Colgan – and his left-hand post.
Saints were made to pay as Murray claimed his second goal of the match in the 35th minute.
Freddy Arpinon picked up the clearance from O’Neil’s corner and fed Jack, who powered his way past Jim Weir before hanging a delightful chip at the back-post for the 20-year-old to head home.
Things went from bad to worse for Saints as Parker was shown the red card 60 seconds later. He left referee Rowbotham with no option but to produce a second yellow as he went in late on Murray. Hibs were enjoying the bulk of possession against the ten men of Saints but were unable themselves to carve out clear-cut openings, O’Connor firing a couple of shots over before O’Neil tried his luck from long-range only to pull his effort wide.
That all changed, however, when O’Connor, who had suffered a poor afternoon in front of goal, made it three with a glorious strike in the 66th minute.
The youngster beat Darren Dods in an aerial challenge on the halfway line and raced clear before crashing an unstoppable angled shot into the roof of the net from just inside the 18-yard line.