The first – Jamie Hamilton – was denied the right to participate in the final 78 minutes of the contest after a hotly-disputed red card, the second – Josh Doig – made sure that Hibs were able to take full advantage of the extra man, scoring his first senior goal for the club to wrap up all three points and ensure that the Leith side remain on course for their first top-top three finish since he was a toddler.
Involved in each of those talking points as well as the other two key moments in an absorbing match was Martin Boyle, who maintained his rich seam of scoring form.
At kick-off, 25 points separated the team in third and Brian Rice’s 11th-placed relegation battlers, but giving their seasonal demonstration in stubbornness to avoid the drop, the visitors made it clear that they saw an opportunity to pick up some points and there was an early opportunity for Scott McMann, who had drifted off his man. He unleashed a shot but it was deflected wide of Ofir Marciano’s far post and out for a corner. The goalkeeper was called into action again soon after when he first had to gather a long range effort and then was at full stretch to push Marios Ogkmpoe’s shot off the post and out for another corner.
Then came the moment that, according to the visitors, affected the outcome of the match. It certainly shifted momentum in Hibs’ favour.
Hamilton were left feeling raging after centre-half Jamie Hamilton lunged in and caught Boyle, leaving him rolling on the ground. It sounded bad and the pace of the collision made it look reckless and Hibs players swarmed referee Craig Napier. It looked like he may let the young defender off with a caution but after consulting his assistant, who had a close and unobstructed view of the incident, he took out the red card.
For a team who were taking on their fifth game in 17 days, it would have been easy to give in to the mental and physical fatigue, especially when Boyle picked himself up and within a minute had popped up on the other flank, and cut in to curl a lovely finish past Ryan Fulton. But Hamilton, who entered the game on the back of a three-game unbeaten run, are not the kind of team who will surrender defeat that meekly.
It is a measure of Hibs rediscovered fortitude that they did not allow that to rattle them, though, and were able to maintain their composure and, with patience and an ability to work the ball to their numerical advantage, found a way to see out the game. Even if it took longer than manager Jack Ross might have liked to extend their lead and quash any Hamilton hopes of a late push for parity.
Hibs had started the match looking for their first run of four successive league wins in three years. They made only one change from the team that had performed so well in the last outing, against third-place rivals Aberdeen, bringing Joe Newell back into the starting line up for the first time since he hobbled off with a groin complaint in the draw with Celtic over a month ago. Alex Gogic was the man who made way.
The English midfielder came close to stretching the lead but his drive was headed clear by Hakeem Odoffin. Doig followed up but his blistering strike from outside the box, which was also blocked.
There was further misfortune for Hamilton in the 21st minute when Marios Ogkmpoe appeared to hurt his hamstring as he and Hibs’ Darren McGregor chased a loose ball. The veteran defender cleared the danger but as he got up to get on with the game, the away striker stayed grounded and had to be replaced.
While he was still awaiting attention, Hibs broke upfield and Brian Easton had to be brave and take a Christian Doidge strike full whack to avoid them opening up a bigger lead.
The Welshman was involved again in the 33rd minute when a Boyle corner was delivered into the box. McGregor headed down for Doidge but he was clattered by substitute David Moyo, earning the home side a penalty.
Boyle stepped up, having scored from the spot in the last two games, but Fulton did what St Mirren and Aberdeen had been unable to do and saved his shot.
If Doig’s second half goal was a well-deserved prize for his endeavours this season and in this match, his fellow wingback, Chris Cadden, merited similar reward as he turned in arguably his most complete performance since signing last month. But with plenty of space to aim at, he sliced his attempt.
The only complaint at that stage was that against a team like Hamilton, who were refusing to lie down, a plumper cushion would have eased the tensions in the technical area.
Those concerns were highlighted less than 10 minutes after the restart when Bruce Anderson had a first-time dig which Marciano had to get behind to prevent the away side levelling.
They responded with Doidge holding the ball up and then laying it off to Cadden. This time he was on target with his angled shot but it was well saved by Fulton.
McGregor then tested Hamilton with a header as both sides tried to get forward, aware that the next goal would be crucial. Underlining their reacquired early-season credentials when it comes to getting the job done, a Hibs side who are clearly focusing on bolstering their European ambitions and hitting their target of finishing third, finally got the goal that sealed the win, with young Doig admitting he saw Boyle’s 69th-minute delivery coming in and simply closed his eyes, headed and hoped.