THIS east versus west encounter attracted a decent pre-Christmas crowd most of whom left for home sated after a glut of goals by Hibs, a five-card trick trumping a St Mirren side that flattered to deceive before being comprehensively derailed by John Collins’s Easter Road express.
Saints started brightly enough, pinging the ball around crisply, but Hibs soon began to have a say in proceedings with Steven Fletcher, set up beautifully by Shelton Martis, missing the target when well placed.
With stand-in skipper Rob Jones towering in defence, and Michael Stewart the fulcrum in midfield, Hibs dominated the opening quarter while the Buddies’ cause was not helped when fit again Billy Mehmet was forced off with another injury with just a dozen minutes gone, Scott Gemmill replacing him.
Hibs won a string of corners and their pressure eventually paid off in the 20th minute when, following Merouane Zemmama’s flag kick on the left, Saints could only clear as far as Murphy whose intelligent interplay with Fletcher and Chris Killen saw Guillaume Beuzelin slot the ball home from the Kiwi’s cutback.
Hibs were rampant and Killen thought he had doubled the lead in the 25th minute when he finished off a delightful move involving Zemmama and Steven Whittaker, “scoring” at the second attempt – but stand-in referee Craig Thomson took his assistant’s advice and chalked it off.
But such was Hibs’ superiority that another goal was inevitable and it came courtesy of a fleet-footed forceful run by Dean Shiels, whose pass Killen gratefully accepted before clipping the ball confidently home.
Five minutes before the interval, high-flying Hibs had their wings clipped with a goal that silenced Easter Road which until then had been a pre-Christmas cacophony of celebrations.
Picking up a speculative ball out of defence and with the Hibs backline ball watching, John Sutton held the ball up, turned, advanced on goal and stroked the ball beyond keeper Zibi Malkowski with precision.
Hibs settled first in the second period, Stewart not only providing the guile but also the bite in midfield, aided and abetted by pocket dynamo Zemmama.
Just before the hour, Hibs fans were singing again and the name on all their lips was “Deano, Deano” in tribute to the impressive Dean Shiels who was influential throughout and none more so than when he restored the Easter Road’s two-goal cushion.
Killen was released through the centre-forward channel, dragging the ball wide to inside-left before unleashing a low shot which Tony Bullock did well to save with his legs but when the ball ricocheted to Shiels the youngster slid the ball home from the edge of the box. Seven minutes later the contest was all over when Zemmama finished clinically from a dozen yards out from Beuzelin’s pinpoint cutback.
Shiels was then substituted to a standing ovation and 17 minutes from time Hibs went nap when a slide rule pass from Zemmama split the Saints defence for substitute Benjelloun to drill the ball beyond Bullock with conviction and confidence.
Stewart almost rounded off an excellent midfield display with a goal in the dying minutes, collecting and pivoting before delivering a crisp 18-yard shot which clipped the far post.