Hibs came out on top in a thriller in Paisley as two sides who liked to play attacking football showed the result can be spectacular.
After a bright start by Saints, Hibs began to press and scored at the first time of asking after just six minutes. Goalkeeper Craig Samson messed up his attempt to dribble out of trouble and allowed Leigh Griffiths to dispossess him and slot the ball home for his first goal for Hibs after arriving on loan from Wolves.
This unexpected early breakthrough gave Hibs the confidence to play further upfield than usual, with David Wotherspoon, Isaiah Osbourne and Junior Agogo directing their operations from midfield in what was emerging to be a useful grouping.
Despite being pressed, St Mirren nevertheless stuck to their passing, probing game, but their normal accuracy was not always evident. The home side did have the better of the chances, however, with Steven Thompson’s header from a Gary Teale free kick going just wide.
Paul McGowan, unusually, had been a virtual no-show for the first half-hour, but out of nothing got St Mirren on level terms. Hibs could not clear their lines after 32 minutes, and David van Zanten sent in a sweet curling cross which McGowan leaped to head home from an unmarked position. Graham Stack got a hand to it but two minutes later he couldn’t get close as Thompson’s header from a Teale free-kick was half-cleared to McGowan and the little midfielder thumped the ball home from just outside the penalty spot.
St Mirren’s lead lasted less than six minutes. Hibs won a free-kick on their right wing and Wotherspoon’s inch-perfect cross was headed down and into the net by Sean O’Hanlon. He had towered over Thompson to reach the ball, referee Bobby Madden ignoring protests that the striker had been fouled.
With adrenaline the biggest asset on display, Hibs rushed forward after 41 minutes and Garry O’Connor, who had been doing a lot of the fetching and carrying without reward, sent a delightful chip over the home defence for Griffiths to outpace Van Zanten and smash the ball home for his second and Hibs’ third goal.
Not surprisingly, the second half could not match the first, as both defences tightened up. There was little let-up in the effort department, however. as home boss Danny Lennon sent on Nigel Hasselbaink and the Dutchman was soon troubling Hibs. Indeed, he was involved in an amazing double miss after 67 minutes, Thompson’s goalbound shot being deflected by Stack only as far as Hasselbaink who looked certain to score only for Paul Hanlon to do enough to put him off his shot which went wide.
Hibs: Stack, Towell, Murray, O’Hanlon, Hanlon, Wotherspoon, Galbraith, Osbourne, Agogo, Griffiths, O’Connor.