Hibernian missed the chance to hit the top of the Championship when Dundee United battled back in the second half to claim a share of the points.
Not for the first time at Easter Road this season Neil Lennon’s team had been leading and comfortable but a second goal was to elude them and they would pay for that when William Edjenguele cancelled out James Keatings’ opener with a towering header.
The equaliser was deserved, though, and it keeps United in touch with the teams ahead of them, while Hibs remain a point behind leaders Queen of the South in second spot.
It was one of those ridiculously early kick-offs where even though Giovanni’s chip shop and the programme emporium had opened their doors to compete with the church services for pre-match entertainment, the crowd in the ground can be slow to stir and the players likewise.
But in the third minute of this one, with Paul Hanlon getting the chance to canter up the left flank in place of the suspended Lewis Stevenson, a Keatings free-kick clipped the outside of the post with Cammy Bell beaten.
Hibs had finished the last two games with ten men and Lennon, having said beforehand it would be “really, really helpful” if the same thing did not happen again, was on the touchline calming down captain David Gray after he flew at a challenge he was never really going to win.
United, with only Blair Spittal remaining in the line-up from the last time the teams met in April’s Scottish Cup semi-final, made a coy start. They created nothing in the first quarter and only some misplaced passes from the Hibs midfield interrupted the flow of the game towards Bell’s goal, with the most promising four-man move concluding with a John McGinn cutback which Andrew Shinnie screwed wide.
For United, Scott Fraser was at least demonstrating a willingness to break at speed in the hope his side could put their imprint on the match and when Dylan McGeouch was dispossessed in the final third for Hibs the Tangerines should have scored.
But, while the ball travelled quickly to the other end and Simon Murray wriggled to create space for himself in the box, his shot was weak and straight at Ofir Marciano.
Lennon had said beforehand that, when required to do so, it was a manager’s prerogative to criticise his players. “This is football – are we going to hold their hands all week?” he asked. Doubtless anticipating some angry words from their manager for that close shave, his team would make the breakthrough a minute later. Shinnie collected the ball 20 yards out and prodded it beyond the United back-line. Keatings timed his movement perfectly and popped a left-foot shot beyond Bell and into the far corner of the net.
Five minutes before the break, though, United had a great chance to equalise. Nick van der Velden, who had been a muscular presence on the left, turned up on the right side of the box for a long corner where he eluded two challenges only to fire into the side netting.
Hibs were forced into a change for the second period with Gray, who had taken a knock earlier, being replaced by debutant Neal Eardley. On the other flank, Hanlon in his unfamiliar role was seeing plenty of the ball but one shot was skewed wide and a few minutes later a cross was too near Bell.
The home side remained in control of the game without creating an abundance of chances to increase their advantage.
United, living off Fraser’s surges and not much else to stay in touch, had to change things.
Ray McKinnon introduced all three substitutes in quick succession and the last of them, Tope Obadeyi, found himself in plenty of room for a run which produced a corner. Fraser, who was probably man of the match, whipped the ball over and Edjenguele climbed above Shinnie and Hanlon to head the equaliser.
Hibs tried to respond right away and yet another run from Hanlon this time produced a tantalising cross begging to be hit first time but Shinnie declined the invitation. Hibs had been in control against Ayr United and, in the Betfred Cup, Queen of the South, only for these games to be turned right round and United sensed they might be able to get more than a point.
Obadeyi again found himself in plenty of room on the left flank but his cross was too high for Spittal.
Then another delivery from the same position required a desperate headed clearance from Darren McGregor.
But Hibs almost won it at the death. Jordon Forster charged forward and found Keatings on the edge of the United box. The forward twisted into space and shot low and hard but Bell flung himself down by a post to save.