FOR most of 2014 Hibernian have resembled the final, ailing Dodo, heading inexorably towards their Premiership extinction.
It seems that there is life in them yet, contrary to popular expectation. Last night they brushed off a few of the statistics that have clung to them like barnacles - too few wins, too few goals, too few clean sheets - by coming to Hamilton and leaving with a result which resonated around the country.
Unless one final act of ineptitude awaits in the second leg of this play-off at Easter Road on Sunday, it will be Hibs who survive and maintain their SPFL Premiership status. For Hamilton Academical another season in the second tier beckons, and quite probably more than one given the likelihood of Rangers and Hearts hogging the promotion places next season.
At last Hibs stopped the rot. At last they got the foothold which let them arrest the seemingly terminal slide. This team has given ample, repeated demonstrations of its flaws in recent months and this was only their second win in 20 games. Two well-executed goals from striker Jason Cummings, the 18-year-old too young to be fully burdened by the pressure of the circumstances, delivered a precious, priceless first-leg result.
Hibs deserved it. They were not as smooth as Hamilton and neither were they as pleasing on the eye, and the expected summer clearout is as necessary as ever. But they grafted tenaciously and - odd though it sounds to say so - they had more punch than their opponents, even if only in the form of one player.
Cummings was once a Hearts player but was released by them after serious injuries, and he might have been lost to the senior game had he not been picked up by Hibs. It seems likely that he scored the goals which will keep the Edinburgh clubs in different divisions next season. Last night's pair were the best and second best of his senior career, because they also happened to be the first and second he has scored.
They were entirely different finishes, but each had manager Terry Butcher purring. One of Hibs' umpteen problems has been taking a lead in games, let alone successfully defending one, and Butcher had been pining for this sort of winning position for weeks.
At last they had something to cling to, something to defend. Their play-off lead is hardly insurmountable for a Hamilton team that scored 10 times in a game earlier this month, but even by Hibs' standards it would take one all mighty collapse for them to muck things up from here.
Cummings scored at good times, a few minutes before half-time and a few minutes after. The first came from nowhere, but his control, technique and power were excellent as he lashed a shot from 30 yards right down the centre of the goal. The defending from Hamilton was poor in the moments before the hit and goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert let it go through him too easily.
Other than an earlier shot from Scott Bobertson, Hibs lacked a sense of menace in the final third, but they played with the tempo their large support was entitled to demand.
Some of Hamilton's first half attacks were swift and slick. Mickael Antoine-Curier, Tony Andreu, James Keatings and Louis Longridge moved and interchanged the way players do when they have been together in a winning unit for months on end. They released through balls for each other and fed clever passes into the path of runners. They always looked on the brink of turning the Hibs defenders.
It never quite happened, though. Too much of their play was in front of the Hibs back four. Longridge crossed and Keatings volleyed over; Keatings crossed and Antoine-Curier volleyed over too and Longridge did not make the most of another chance.
Hibs coped reasonably well, although there was relief when an effort from Antoine-Curier's was blocked by goalkeeper Ben Williams after Michael Nelson swiped hopelessly at a clearance.
The second Hibs goal came 10 minutes into the second half, like a dagger into Hamilton's hearts. Paul Heffernan did well to work the ball into the box and what composure Cummings showed, what a deft touch, to lift the ball over both Cuthbert and Martin Canning into the net. It did go in, too, despite Ziggy Gordon hacking it clear. In a stroke, Hibs looked safe on the night, even safe for the season.
One Hamilton goal would have transformed the mood ahead of the second leg. They battled away gamely but, in truth, Hamilton looked like a side which had run out of answers. The Hibees are half-way, more than half-way, to clambering on to the last remaining lifeboat.