THIS match was supposed to be a way of seeing how much Hibs would miss Garry O’Connor if his move to Russia transpired.
It turned out, with the arrival of Chris Killen in January, and Derek Riordan again in the mood to torment defenders, they would look in pretty good shape.
Hibs faced a sorry Dundee United side who had already contrived to get two managers sacked, and their current gaffer, Craig Brewster, was beginning to understand why.
Brewster went into the match still searching for his first win as Tannadice boss and, from the sixth minute, it was pretty evident that he would still be waiting come the 90th. The three first-half goals all bore the mark of Riordan in one way or another; however it was inevitably the shoddy defending of the United back four which aided Hibs to victory.
Riordan opened the scoring in the sixth minute, after Kevin Thomson had danced through a couple of tangerine-shirted players on the edge of the box to square him the ball, and the club’s top scorer hit a shot low into the bottom right corner of Craig Samson’s goal.
From then on, United were simply seeing out the remaining 84 minutes, trying to sustain as little damage as possible.
Poor Alan Archibald was at fault for Hibs’ second, his kamikaze header in the 25th minute causing havoc in his own box.
It came from a Riordan delivery from wide right and the United captain, at the back post, headed his “clearance” into the roof of the net rather than over the bar. While the ball was delivered with pace and Killen was lurking with intent in behind him, it was still a moment of madness.
Killen only compounded United’s misery when he ran on to an exquisite, long-range Riordan ball in the 32nd minute and from an angle he made a mockery of the attentions of Garry Kenneth and Archibald and finished clinically.
In Killen, Hibs already had a ready-made replacement for O’Connor. A big, physical guy able to hold the ball up he had a growing reputation for scoring, thanks to three goals in his first five appearances.
Still not 100 per cent match fit, following his January transfer from Oldham and a couple of weeks hamstrung by his hamstring, the New Zealand internationalist had done enough to suggest that when he would regain fitness there wouldn’t be too much pining after O’Connor.
A 16-year-old David Goodwillie came on and became the youngest player to have ever scored in the SPL, but this goal only served as a mere consolation for the Tangerines.
It was a horribly difficult afternoon for those of a United persuasion to endure and while Goodwillie did manage a goal with two minutes to go, it took three attempts to finish it. Samuel had the first dig, but found the bar rather than the back of the net; Robertson tried to bury the rebound, but was denied by the post; and it was eventually up to the youngster to make history.