analysis Hibernian top SPL table after last season's flirtation with rock bottom
The No.51 remains public enemy No.1 in the eyes of the Hibernian supporters. When Rudi Skacel, the former Tynecastle talisman and a player as popular down Leith way as a Save Our Hearts fund-raiser, came off the Dundee United bench on 58 minutes, the home fans' howls of derision could probably have been heard in the Czech Republic.
Apart from throwing the kitchen sink into the mix, Skacel tried everything else to stick another thorn into Hibs' side as the visitors battled to overturn a 2-0 deficit in a boisterous second half.
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He had a header ruled out, controversially, for offside and a superbly executed volley rattled the bar, while a series of left-footed swipes seemed to hurtle goalwards in wild abandon. Amid the palaver, it was the spirited hosts who had the final word, although Skacel's sideshow had one last say too.
As he trudged down the tunnel, he could not resist turning his back to the main stand to point at the 51 on his shirt, just to remind the Hibs hordes, once again, of that William Hill Scottish Cup final trouncing in May at the hands of Hearts.
The wounds of that desperate day cut deeply for those of a green and white persuasion but this season has certainly helped to salve the pain.
This latest triumph, characterised by some first-half craft allied to some combative second-half graft, kept them bounding along nicely at the top end of the table.
Since losing 3-0 on the opening day of the campaign to Dundee United at Tannadice, the transformation in fortunes has been remarkable.
"We couldn't have imagined after that game [at Tannadice] that we'd be top of the league in November," said Pat Fenlon, the Hibs manager. "But the players have rolled up their sleeves and shown great spirit and belief. This shows how far they have come in that time."
The Hibs fans were in good voice and there was plenty of reason to be, with their side sitting joint top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table going into yesterday's match. The latest fiscal firestorm singeing their Auld Reekie rivals gave them extra vocal fuel, while the presence of Skacel provided further ammunition for those throaty wails of a less than complementary nature.
The small band of Dundee United supporters arrived in the capital in reasonable fettle too. Since a 4-0 thumping in Inverness at the end of September, Peter Houston's team had embarked on a five-match unbeaten run that has aided a clamber up the order.
It was the hosts who made the early advances and the tangerine backline had to be on their guard in the fifth minute to do a collective smothering act on an indirect free-kick in the area from Leigh Griffiths, who last night tweeted news of his first call-up to the Scotland squad for Wednesday's friendly in Luxembourg.
The defences would be breached some 13 minutes later, though, as a fine flowing move, instigated by Paul Cairney and Eoin Doyle on the left, ended with Griffiths lashing a powerful volley high into the net. From that encouraging opening, the remainder of the half meandered to an uneventful conclusion. The second period would prove far more captivating.
The catalyst for this general upping of the ante was provided by a second Hibernian goal barely five minutes after the resumption. Cairney nutmegged Keith Watson on a dance into the box and his cut-back was by side-footed home by the unmarked Doyle.
Hibs were in total command and had all the momentum but, criminally, they gifted their opponents a foothold almost immediately. Paul Hanlon, under pressure and facing his own goal, opted to trundle the ball back to his goalkeeper, Ben Williams, when a hoof to safety would have caused a lot less chaos. Williams made a hash of the clearance and, amid the confusion and defensive dithering, Gary Mackay-Steven was on hand to gobble up the leftovers with a considered finish.
With Skacel entering the fray not long after, the heat of battle intensified. His headed 'goal' – which TV cameras later proved was onside – would have sent temperatures through the roof. As it was, Hibs stood firm in the face of a robust United assault which, ultimately, proved too little too late for the visitors.
"Yet again we are talking about a decision purely made by the official," Houston said of Skacel's header. "The linesman should be able to see it."
On Skacel's tunnel taunting at the end, the Dundee United manager was a little less opinionated: "Well, he was getting enough stick from the Hibs fans, but I didn't see that."