Franck Sauzee was a wonder to behold. In the 12th minute of this match he bashed home a glorious free-kick and then ran the length of the field leaping like a lamb to greet the Hibs support.
Sandy Clark had achieved much in two years in Perth, but watching this match you sensed the shocking toughness of his task. Jim Weir’s red card in the 12th minute hardly helped, but even before then, and certainly after it, St Johnstone were lacking. Too much of this was so dire from St Johnstone’s perspective that it was impossible to make judgments about some of their brighter hopes. Keigan Parker was still only 18 and had only made 14 starting appearances for the club. Following Weir’s red card, poor Parker was relegated to chasing up and down his own flank, mainly in the role of a wing-back. His erstwhile striking partner, Graeme Jones, meanwhile, kept trying to trap the ball, occasionally watching it biff off his boot and end in the stand.
Hibs came to McDiarmid sitting second-top of the league, and with a team capable of playing bright, entertaining football, yet the empty seats here spoke of Saints’ struggle for recognition, even among their own. It was a dispiriting sight which was to get worse by the minute for Clark as Hibs scored two first-half goals and began toying with the home side. By that point, though, St Johnstone had been sorely handicapped.
The hosts had to play 78 minutes of this game with ten men. It was hard to be specific about whether Weir had been carried off injured or been red-carded by Hugh Dallas, the referee – both of these, in fact, occurred. Weir’s clatter on Mixu Paatelainen as he tore through on Alan Main’s goal looked inside the box, but the Finn was upended, Weir writhed in agony and Dallas ordered a free-kick on the edge of the box.
Weir never recovered from his foul and took a red card from Dallas as he was borne from the field. With a certain poetic justice, Sauzee stepped forth and smashed the free-kick past Main.
Hibs might have had five or six, and perhaps St Johnstone one, possibly two, but this match lacked vigour in terms of competitive appeal. By half-time, when Hibs were two ahead, there were already angry calls from among Perth’s more impassioned for something to be done about the one-way traffic.
It was the beginning of the end for the home side. Twelve minutes after Sauzee’s strike, David Zitelli ran through on to Russell Latapy’s pass and deftly lobbed Main for Hibs’ second. In the middle of the second half Latapy then completed the job, skipping past a lumbering St Johnstone defence to send a low drive skidding inside Main’s left post.