Hibs proved their status as the third strongest force in Scottish football by virtue of their ability to win convincingly without overdoing the aplomb.
Four goals better than their opponents for the second Sunday in a row, Hibs rampaged in the second half at Easter Road and might have had a scoresheet listing six or seven had substitute Tom McManus and man-of-the-match Paco Luna been more ruthless with chances in the final ten minutes.
Alex McLeish expressed delight at the performance of an experimental back four comprising Ulrik Laursen, Paul Fenwick, Ian Murray and Alen Orman – which was a good thing as Franck Sauzee was struggling to be fit for the upcoming crucial European clash with AEK Athens and Gary Smith was almost certainly out.
Goals by Luna, Fenwick, Grant Brebner and Allan Smart led Hibs back into the clear third place in the SPL they cradled throughout last season.
Hibs’ opening goal was a case of everything clicking at the right time.
Certainly neither of the men who formed it, Ulises de la Cruz and Luna, had previously suggested he was capable of being so clinical. Luna, running into the referee and directing free headers ten yards wide, had looked rusty, while Ecuadorian De La Cruz’s contribution was just as error-strewn until his moment of mastery arrived.
Beating Ross Forsyth with a swagger on the right, the Ecuadorian curled his right foot around the ball and Luna timed his run and jump to perfection, sneaking between two defenders and glancing a downward header beyond Kevin Cuthbert. After the break, Orman caused a panic in the Hibs defence with a horrendous fresh-air kick at an innocuous cross, but Willie Falconer struck the ball into the body of the on-rushing Nick Colgan when he might have been better advised to try to lift it over him.
From this point onwards, St Johnstone simply fell apart. From a gentle John O’Neil corner, Fenwick managed to flick a header into the far corner with both Jim Weir and Stuart McCluskey going for the ball instead of one of them opting to man the post.
The first two goals had been greeted by the St Johnstone players with expressions of bravado and encouragement. The third, just three minutes later, induced a collective sigh of dread.
It was a well-taken effort by Brebner, pulling the ball down at the edge of the box and striking it on the half-volley, and almost immediately De La Cruz was producing a third assist for Hibs’ fourth.
He received the ball on the right-hand side of the box and knew he only had to outpace Jackson to reach the bye-line. This was achieved without difficulty, and Smart ran in front of his marker to divert the cross home from close range.
He should have easily set up Luna for the fifth, but struck his left-footed pass straight at Cuthbert when the Spaniard was running clear through the middle.
Hibs: Colgan, Fenwick, Orman, Murray, Laursen, Jack, De La Cruz, Brebner, O’Neil, Smart, Luna.