On the back of last Wednesday's narrow 1-0 win over Aberdeen, this bright new dawn at Hibs continued with an important win over Dundee United at Tannadice, prevailing 3-1 thanks to strikes from Kevin Nisbet, Chris Cadden and Jamie Murphy. Hibs remain fifth in the cinch Premiership at the 20-game mark but as the league pauses, last season's third-best team appear to have some momentum at their backs following a wretched run of form that cost Jack Ross his job.
This was a controlled, and at times classy, performance from Hibs, who dominated the match almost in its entirety. Dundee United will point to disruption in the build-up to this game due to Covid cases and Ryan Edwards being pulled out of the starting XI at very short notice. While that is true, they were clearly second best here.
Against Aberdeen, there were some embryonic signs of the football Maloney wants to play at Hibs, with sharper passing, increased tempo and a more attacking mindset. They developed his philosophy much further here in a 3-4-1-2 formation, passing stylishly with players interchanging positions frequently. Very rarely did the ball leave the ground and often full-backs Josh Doig and Cadden were often the furthest players forward. Hibs' players are asked to take more risks on the ball, passing their way out of sticky situations. Confidence is already growing.
Drey Wright was handed a surprise start – his first in a Hibs shirt since May 15 against Celtic. The ex-St Johnstone player was out of favour under Ross, but Maloney is giving everyone a clean slate and the 26-year-old did his case no harm before being replaced on the hour-mark. The star of the show, however, was Jake Doyle-Hayes, who takes great care of the football and was the fulcrum in Hibs' dynamic midfield.
Hibs had 74 per cent of possession in the first half and patiently waited for an opportunity to score, moving their opponents from side to side. The breakthrough goal on 38 minutes enraged United, though, who were convinced it was offside. Josh Doig’s weighted cross found Cadden free at the back post. His effort was blocked by Scott McMann, with Martin Boyle drilling the ball across goal for Nisbet to score from close range. United goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist had been left grounded, diving for Cadden's initial shot, and the hosts' protestations stemmed from Nisbet potentially being beyond the Swiss when finishing past Charlie Mulgrew on the line. Video footage proved inconclusive.
Nisbet visibly grew in confidence after scoring and while Hibs always looked the more dangerous in the second period, United played with a sharper edge after the break. However, they were dealt a blow when, following the use of all three substitutes, captain and defender Mulgrew was forced off injured. Now exposed at the back with ten men, United were vulnerable and Hibs pounced on 78 minutes. Doyle-Hayes sliced the defence open with a pass to set Boyle free. His low ball found Cadden and he finished emphatically for his first goal for Hibs.
United had to push everyone forward and threw themselves a lifeline when Declan Glass scored a quite impressive solo goal, curling into the top corner on 90 minutes after evading a few challenges, but Hibs put the game to bed in stoppage time via substitute Murphy.
The Maloney era feels like it is up and running.