HIBS consolidated their grip on third place in the SPL with their second 4-0 win of the season against Dundee.
Defeat to Rangers and a draw against Motherwell in mid-week had prompted talk of a mid-season slump at Easter Road, but a double from Garry O’Connor and single strikes from Steven Whittaker and Steven Fletcher dispelled any notion that Tony Mowbray’s young side might be about to lose their nerve and their form in the second half of the season.
There were surprises in the starting line-ups with Hibs captain Ian Murray still recovering from a mouth abscess while former Chelsea youth player Joel Kitamirike made his debut at the heart of the Dundee defence replacing virus-stricken Brent Sancho.
Jim Duffy’s side started brightly and created an opening with less than a minute on the clock, Fabian Caballero picking out the run of Steve Lovell, who failed to capitalise after finding himself straight through on goal with only Simon Brown to beat.
Hibs were struggling to find their usual fluency from middle to front although Derek Riordan almost added to his impressive goal tally with 14 minutes gone. Stephen Glass expertly picked him out with a raking pass from the centre circle and the Scotland squad man was all set to pull the trigger until Steven Robb intervened with a superb sliding tackle.
Caballero was causing all sorts of problems when he dropped back into midfield and again the Paraguayan sent Lovell through on goal midway through the half. This time the English striker took the ball first time and calmly side footed past Brown only to see the assistant referee flag for offside.
It was another warning for Hibs and one they heeded as they promptly broke up the park to break the deadlock. A high ball over the top found Riordan rushing in on goal and although Derek Soutar did well to parry his shot from the angle of the six-yard box, O’Connor reacted quickest to sweep the ball into the net.
Tam McManus, returning to Easter Road for the first time since moving to Dens Park in the transfer window, should have equalised before the break when Caballero played him through, but on his weaker left side he shot feebly into the arms of Brown.
It was Hibs, though, who grabbed the crucial second goal after the interval. The home fans in the main stand were still making their way back to their seats when Hibs stormed into a two-goal lead within two minutes of the re-start.
Once again O’Connor was involved, spotting Whittaker’s run from deep; the full-back’s first touch was exquisite, knocking the ball past his opponent before lashing a right-foot shot high into the net. Dundee looked dead and buried yet Brown almost gifted them a way back when he dropped the ball on the edge of his area, but McManus couldn’t take advantage. Seconds later Lovell miscued horribly after McManus had teed him up perfectly. It would prove to be their last chance and two goals in two minutes from Fletcher and a further strike from O’Connor saw the confidence surge back through the Hibs ranks.
O’Connor’s double, his fourth of the season, took his tally to 14, making it 32 between him and Riordan, but as the goals mount, it was the 21-year-old’s all-round performances which surely caught the eye of new Scotland boss Walter Smith.