Game on. If anyone expected Hibs to go away, their bid to finish “best of the rest” to fade, then it’s time to think again.
Neil Lennon’s players are in it for the long haul, coming from behind to clock up a fifth successive league win at home for the first time in 17 years to keep the heat on Rangers and Aberdeen.
The Dons took over second place from Rangers – now just one point ahead of the Capital club – thanks to their 2-0 win at against Motherwell at Fir Park but Hibs remain very much in the hunt, this an eighth successive match unbeaten.
And, in doing so, they again displayed a strength in adversity, overcoming the loss of an early goal with a hat-trick from striker Flo Kamberi as Hamilton lost their way and with it midfielder Dougie Imrie, twice shown the yellow card as he attempted to deal with the threat of Martin Boyle.
Martin Canning’s side accepted the gift presented to them when Hibs goalkeeper Ofiir Marciano spilled an Antonio Rojano cross, leaving Marios Ogkmpoe to knock the ball into an empty net.
But after Hibs had twice hit the woodwork, Kamberi hauled them level with a superb shot and just after the hour mark he claimed his second, guiding home Boyle’s cross with his head.
And, with five minutes remaining, the young Swiss player completed a night he won’t forget, cleverly beating Gary Woods after Paul Hanlon’s pass had left him with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Marciano had made an immediate return in goal for Hibs following the one-match suspension which caused him to miss the victory over Partick Thistle, his understudy Cammy Bell having picked up a calf injury while Marvin Bartley, who was still feeling the effects of a virus at the weekend, made way as Steven Whittaker began his first match in almost four months.
Hibs were looking to continue the impressive run of form they’ve been on since the Premiership kicked back into action following the winter break, one which had brought them hard on the heels of Rangers and Aberdeen in that race for second place.
But they were also mindful of the fact that they had yet to beat Hamilton this season, and with good reason as Accies shocked the home support by taking the lead thanks to a gift from Marciano.
There was no apparent danger as the Israeli internationalist looked rather tentative as he went down to gather a harmless cross from Rojano but he somehow managed to spill it into the path of Ogkmpoe, who had the easy task of putting the ball into the empty net.
Hibs hit back and Kamberi was only inches away from equalising as he met Lewis Stevenson’s free-kick, his shot hammering back off the post before there was another lucky escape for Hamilton as their goalkeeper Woods diverted a Stevenson cross from the opposite flank onto his bar.
The Easter Road side, though, weren’t to be denied an equaliser, Kamberi and Dylan McGeouch exchanging passes at the edge of the Accies penalty area, the Swiss striker shifting the ball onto his right foot before rifling a powerful low shot into the far corner of Woods’ net.
It had been a terrific response from the Capital side following that early shock, another sign of the resolve and resilience they have found in the past couple of seasons.
And they almost took the lead when a clever pass from McGeouch gave Boyle the space to fire in a low cross which missed the outstretched boot of the inrushing Kamberi by a whisker.
Whittaker, operating in the middle of the park alongside McGeouch and Scott Allan, and Hanlon tried their luck from range before, right on the stroke of half-time, the latter got his head to Stevenson’s corner only to glance it just wide of the far post.
Hibs came back out seeking that second goal, Kamberi getting his head to Stevenson’s cross but only able to send the ball straight into the arms of Woods before he had a rather ambitious effort, an overhead kick which went wide as he met Hanlon’s glancing header.
Hamilton were obviously aware that Ross County were swapping places with Partick Thistle, albeit on goal difference, at the foot of the table, a result which would mean a point from this game would be of great benefit in their own quest to avoid being dragged into the relegation zone.
As such, they were taking every opportunity to run the clock down although their cause suffered a major blow with 28 minutes remaining when Imrie, having been booked in the first half for a foul on Boyle, brought down the winger again and was shown a second yellow by referee Steven McLean.
Hibs capitalised immediately, Kamberi using his head to guide Boyle’s cross beyond Woods for his second goal of the game, It was no more than the 22-year-old – on loan from Grasshoppers Zurich – deserved for another tireless performance but it got even better for him as he added his and Hibs’ own third five minutes from time.
Hanlon’s perfect pass left Kamberi with only Woods to beat and he did so in style, drawing the goalkeeper and knocking it over him to complete a memorable hat-trick, the striker making sure he got hold of the match ball before heading up the tunnel on the final whistle.
Marciano, no doubt, would have been more than grateful for Kamberi’s contribution, masking as it did that early blunder, long forgotten as the Hibs fans headed for home again more than happy with what they had seen from Lennon’s players.
Hibs now travel to Dingwall on Saturday to face what will presumably be a Ross County side with a measure of confidence restored following a 4-0 win over Partick but, in the final match before the split, the Capital outfit will make the long journey determined to ensure the good work of these past few days in which they’ve negotiated two potential banana skins isn’t undone in any way.
Hibs (3-4-1-2): Marciano; Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon; Boyle, Whittaker (Bartley 77), McGeouch (Swanson 86), Stevenson; S Allan; Kamberi, Maclaren (Shaw 83). Unused subs: Dabrowski, Slivka, F Murray, Porteous.
Hamilton (3-5-2): Woods; Want, Tomas, Sarris; Imrie, Ferguson, Mackinnon, Lyon, Redmond (Bingham 69); Ogkmpoe (McMann 64), Rojano (Crawford 80). Unused subs: Fulton, Jenkins, Miller, Van der Weg.
Referee: Steven McLean.