Hibs warmed up for their Scottish Cup semi-final with Dundee United by beating the Tannadice men 3-2 to boost their hopes of clinching a European place.
Manager Tony Mowbray would have been pleased by his side’s exploits over the SPL’s bottom club in the dress rehearsal for their clash at Hampden Park.
The victory, secured courtesy of defender Gary Smith’s last-minute strike, kept Hibs a point ahead of Aberdeen in third place, while United were left two points adrift at the other end of the table.
The Tannadice side managed the first shot on goal when striker Jim McIntyre spun cleverly in the box and arched a shot straight at goalkeeper Simon Brown.
Despite some excellent midfield prompting from the busy Scott Brown, Hibs struggled to garner any attacking momentum in the early stages.
And the visitors came close to opening the scoring when Barry Robson’s cross was headed towards goal by McIntyre, only for home centre-back Gary Caldwell to clear off the line.
The Easter Road men had a chance when Dean Shiels robbed Mark Wilson with a fine tackle which sent the ball spinning to Derek Riordan, but the striker pulled a weak shot wide.
The Hibees should have gone ahead when Brown’s pass set Garry O’Connor through on goal but the striker fired straight at the legs of United keeper Tony Bullock.
The home side were looking more menacing as the first half wore on and Riordan’s fierce shot struck the post just a few minutes before they took the lead.
With 35 minutes on the clock, Riordan did exceptionally well to pull the ball back from the byeline and his cross fell into the path of Shiels, who fired into the roof of the net from ten yards out.
Soon after, Hibs struck the woodwork once more when a great curling shot from Stephen Glass sailed beyond Bullock but bounced to safety off the post.
Hibs continued to look strong after the interval but United were back in the game when Wilson’s inswinging corner was headed home by McIntyre.
On 68 minutes Hibs midfielder Kevin Thomson made his long-awaited return from a cruciate ligament injury when he replaced Steven Fletcher, receiving a warm reception from the home crowd.
And a minute later the Hibs support were celebrating when striker O’Connor dismissed the challenge of Garry Kenneth and lashed the ball home from a tight angle.
United substitute Jason Scotland made an immediate impact by bustling past Caldwell and side-footing home United’s second equaliser from close range after 77 minutes.
With seven minutes left Hibs were dealt a further blow when captain Ian Murray was sent off after referee John Underhill was alerted by one of his assistants to an off-the-ball incident.
But Hibs were not to be denied and Smith nodded home from four yards out to hand the home side all three points in an incredible finale.
• United beat Hibs at Hamdpen 2-1 but lost the final to Celtic, 1-0.
Hibs: Simon Brown, Murray, Murphy, Caldwell, Smith, Scott Brown, Shiels, Glass, Fletcher, O’Connor, Riordan.