HIBS boss Alex McLeish kept faith with striker Didier Agathe after a derby day blunder, naming the same 11 players who had opened the season with a draw against Hearts at Tynecastle.
And Agathe took just 80 seconds to repay his manager’s faith as he got Hibs off to a dream start with his first goal for the club. David Partridge, making his first appearance of the season, looked to have Mathias Jack’s hanging clearance from his own half well covered but he was totally oblivious to Agathe’s pace, the Frenchman racing from the centre circle to rob him.
Agathe may have missed an easier opening in Gorgie, but he applied the coolest of finishes, slotting a right-foot shot beyond the helpless Alan Combe in the United goal.
It was just the start Hibs wanted but their joy was almost short-lived as Gary Smith wrestled Steven Thompson to the ground a yard short of the penalty area. Neil Heaney’s curling shot cleared the defensive wall but rolled gently into the arms of Hibs keeper Nick Colgan.
Having gone ahead Hibs delighted their fans with some superb passing play, Russell Latapy and Mixu Paatelainen linking well to send Ulrik Laursen free on the left – the big Dane halted by a dubious offside flag.
Referee Stuart Dougal showed it isn’t only players who can fall prey to a bit of rustiness early in the season, awarding Hibs a goal-kick and only belatedly spotting his assistant signalling for a corner after the players from both sides had retreated towards the halfway line.
It was almost an important decision as far as United were concerned, Tassos Venetis rising all alone to meet Heaney’s cross from the right. Combe did well to take a driven cross from Laursen at his near post with Paatelainen closing in before Agathe claimed his second goal in just 19 minutes. Franck Sauzee delivered the perfect free-kick from the left, leaving his former Montpellier team-mate the easy task of sending a glancing header into the net.
Incredibly, Agathe might have had a hat-trick just five minutes later as Latapy swung a deep corner beyond the back post, the ex-Raith Rovers star rising to send a downwards header beyond Combe only to see Craig Easton block the ball on the line.
The Hibs fans were relishing the fast-flowing football McLeish’s stars were producing and they were again on their feet when Latapy and Agathe combined, the latter laying the ball into the path of Paatelainen whose right-foot shot from 22 yards curled just over the bar.
Hibs resumed where they had left off after the break – on the attack. And a delightful reverse pass from Latapy allowed John O’Neil to drill in a low left-foot shot which Combe did well to smother.
It came as no surprise when United replaced Venetis with David Hannah just four minutes into the second-half although the substitute had to watch Tom Smith cut in and test Combe with a left-foot shot before he passed up a great opportunity to cut the leeway.
Jason de Vos rose at the back post to nod Heaney’s cross into the path of the former Celtic star, but with the goal at his mercy Hannah threw himself full-length only to head wide from four yards out.
That was a real escape for Hibs who needed a third goal to kill the match off and Sauzee did his best with a cheeky free-kick from 50 yards out, the French ace having spotted Combe off his line after De Vos had fouled Paatelainen but his effort sailed high over the crossbar.
Former Hearts star Jim Hamilton got the expected Easter Road welcome when he replaced Easton and Hibs completed the flurry of substitutions when Ian Murray came on for Laursen, Agathe having thoroughly deserved his cheers as he was replaced by striker Tam McManus.
And it was McManus who completed the scoring in the last minute, taking a superb through-ball from O’Neil and slotting the ball low beyond the reach of Combe.