Aberdeen moved back to within one point of third-place Motherwell ahead of Friday’s trip to Fir Park after Hibernian followed their midweek Edinburgh derby defeat with another second-half collapse.
Jack Ross’ side were leading through Christian Doidge’s 39th-minute goal when Steven Whittaker belied his experience with a second yellow card ten minutes after the restart, both for fouls on Lewis Ferguson.
What followed his dismissal certainly alarmed their manager as they went from a composed team in control of things to collapsing alarmingly as another three goals were surrendered, two in the space of just two minutes.
First Niall McGinn’s cross was turned into his own net by Adam Jackson. Then in 66 minutes, Hibernian’s collective attempt at defending a McGinn corner was poor to say the least, with Andrew Considine finally forcing the ball over the line from point-blank range.
Curtis Main rounded off a highly satisfactory last 35 minutes with his fourth goal for the club, taking some of the responsibility when 23-goal leading scorer Sam Cosgrove is missing with a back injury.
A stiffer spine is what Hibernian need according to their manager. Ross, inset, said: “We were ahead in the game, which is not a bad starting point. It’s not like we had ten men and we were chasing the game.So, we need to be better with our response to adversity, if you like.”
It was a mixture of pleasure and relief for Derek McInnes who knew he could never match Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements as Aberdeen manager but nor did he expect to equal records set by Steve Paterson and Ebbe Skovdahl.
That was the reality prior to kick off after a four-game losing streak at home in the league for only the third time in the club’s entire 117 year history, which made a fifth unthinkable.
What helped was coming up against opponents quite happy to make a game of it with an open approach to play that suited the Dons expansive style instead of the rope-a-dope tactics used many visiting sides.
It certainly increased the entertainment value, with chances created at either end as Hibernian strove to make amends for last week’s painful derby defeat at home to struggling Hearts.
Whittaker did return in place of Stephane Omeonga to add some steel to their midfield, too much as it later proved, while Jamie Gullan filled in for Marc McNulty after the striker accepted a two-match suspension for stamping on Sean Clare.
Gullan scored nine goals on loan at Raith Rovers during the first half of the season and should have marked his first start in the Premiership with one after racing clear in the 20th minute.
Ash Taylor failed to deal with a punt forward, allowing the 20-year-old a direct route through but wily old Joe Lewis kept his composure to pysche out his opponent and make a comfortable save.
Certainly more comfortable than a few minutes earlier when the Aberdeen captain jarred his elbow colliding with an upright as he scooped away Christian Doidge’s back-post header.
It’s a measure of how much the Welshman has improved since his last visit to Pittodrie that instead of being discouraged by that, he went on to show the sort of composure chronically lacking back in October.
On that occasion Paul Heckingbottom’s signing was left one-on-one against Lewis on at least four occasions and blew every opportunity but it was a different story when the latest duel arrived in 39 minutes.
Shay Logan surrendered possession to Lewis Stevenson deep in the visitor’s half, the wing back found Scott Allan and although his angled pass seemed to find Doidge in an offside position, the now prolific marksman didn’t hesitate.
He coolly rounded Lewis and from an acute angle clipped in an amazing 18th goal of the season.
However, it all swung in the favour of McInnes’ side after the break.
He said: “It’s so important we finish third at the end of the season and a club like Aberdeen should be playing meaningful games.”