MANAGERLESS Hibs crashed to their third defeat of the week as one-time Easter Road target Stephen McManus scored his first goal for Motherwell, rising to power home a header midway through the first half.
The Fir Park outfit then threatened to stretch their lead, but the Edinburgh club, under the charge of Jimmy Nicholl following boss Pat Fenlon’s surprise decision to quit only 48 hours previously, mounted a grandstand finish in which the home side were reduced to ten men.
Shaun Hutchinson was shown a straight red as he tripped Hibs striker Paul Heffernan just four minutes from time as he charged into the Motherwell penalty area, referee Crawford Allan judging the offence had taken place inches outside.
Substitute Rowan Vine crashed the free-kick off the defensive wall, James Collins sliced horribly wide from a decent position and Motherwell goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen pushed away a net-bound effort from Heffernan with only seconds remaining.
Nicholl made three changes to the side which crashed out of the League Cup against Hearts less than 48 hours before Fenlon quit, one of them enforced as club skipper James McPake sat out the trip to Lanarkshire being suspended following his red card in the derby.
With Michael Nelson also out as he recovers from a shattered cheekbone, young Jordon Forster was drafted in for his first Scottish Premiership match of the season.
Rowan Vine and James Collins dropped to the bench, paving the way for a return for Paul Heffernan, who was cup-tied in midweek as Alan Maybury came in at right back to allow Lewis Stevenson to move left and into midfield.
Both sides made a tentative start, but it was Hibs who carved out the first half-chance, Heffernan meeting Kevin Thomson’s low cross at the near post only to stab it just wide.
Heffernan was further off target with another effort, but was again handily placed when Tom Taiwo drove in a cross from the right. The ball, though, fell fractionally behind the forward and his right foot shot went straight into the arms of Motherwell goalkeeper Nielsen.
Henri Anier found himself in a similar position as he met John Sutton’s cutback and, again, the ball ended up comfortably with Hibs No. 1 Ben Williams. A diving header from Forster as he cleared Lionel Ainsworth’s cross appeared to have averted the immediate danger for Hibs.
But from the subsequent corner, McManus got across Ryan McGivern to rise unopposed to power home a header from Ainsworth’s cross.
Hibs could easily have fallen further behind in the 32nd minute, but for an amazing slice of luck. Sutton’s lay-off set Anier free, the Estonian hitman firing in a low shot which struck the inside of Williams’ left heel at his near post, but somehow the ball screwed wide of the far stick and out of play.
However, Hibs should have equalised five minutes later when Scott Robertson waltzed through the home defence to open up a nice angle for himself but the midfielder wanted one last touch and that was enough to offer Hutchintson the split-second he needed to block the shot.
Anier similarly found himself frustrated as he hesitated when presented with another good opportunity for Stuart McCall’s team, the chance gone as he was held up by Forster and could only hit his shot off the shins of Williams, before Stuart Carswell was only inches away with a shot which zipped across the face of goal but inches wide of the far post.
Motherwell restarted looking for that killer second goal, Ainsworth shooting tamely into the chest of Williams and then firing wide before Robertson drove forward and drilled in an effort which took a deflection off a defender to leave goalkeeper Nielsen flat-footed and relieved to see the ball zip just wide.
Hibs were beginning to see more of the ball without really troubling Nielsen, although he was again happy to see a long-range effort from Robertson go wide after it had taken a deflection.
However, as long as it remained 1-0, Hibs retained hope and it was almost realised four minutes from time when Hutchinson tripped Heffernan as he bore into the Motherwell penalty area, earning himself a straight red card.
Allan, though, judged the offence had taken place inches outside the area, leaving substitute Rowan Vine to blast the ball against the defensive wall rather than show a little more finesse.
And as the game moved into the four minutes of added -on time, James Collins, who had been introduced as Hutchinson trudged off, sliced horribly wide from a good position.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Ramsden (Kerr 16), Hutchinson, McManus, Hammell (Francis-Angol 57), Ainsworth, Carswell, Lasley, McFadden (Vigurs 74), Anier, Sutton.
Substitutes not used: Stewart, Lawson, McHugh, Moore.
Hibs: Williams, Maybury (Collins 86), Forster, Hanlon, McGivern (Vine 76), Robertson, Taiwo (Zoubir 64), Thomson, Craig, Stevenson, Heffernan.
Substitutes not used: Murdoch, Tudur Jones, Handling, Mullen.
Referee: Crawford Allan