It was a night of firsts as Steven Fletcher's first hat trick of the season and Colin Nish's first Hibernian goal earned a first, long-awaited Clydesdale Bank Premier League win for Mixu Paatelainen.

The result, which was only briefly thrown in doubt by a spirited late Gretna fightback, edged the visitors ever closer to the relegation precipice while drawing a line under the home side's wretched run.

Paatelainen, for one, was a relieved man. "I was worried, totally worried," he admitted. "We stopped playing and we can't afford to do that. They could have equalised and that would have been a disaster."

Given Hibs had gone without a league win in over two months, the manager's fear was understandable. Indeed, it was September when they last took full points at home. Tellingly, that most recent victory had come away to Gretna, whose cause, despite the optimistic protestations of Davie Irons, seems more hopeless than ever.

"I don't think it would have been unfair if we'd got a point," Irons said. "Their attitude was first class and I'm proud."

However, his team lacked a player like Fletcher. The sought-after striker underlined his importance to Hibs with a performance full of power and panache. He was certainly the one player who did more than anyone else to settle the nerves, this after a tense opening in which Yves Ma-Kalamby was forced to tip wide a John Paul Kissock shot after 47 seconds.

Within eight minutes, the murmurs of discontent were replaced by cheers as Fletcher nutmegged his marker on the edge of the box before delivering a low cross that Nish, on his home debut, slid in to convert.

This was not to be the last time Gretna's leaden-footed defence were to be left brutally exposed, with even the most speculative of balls causing problems. Indeed, it was their failure to deal with just such a hopeful punt that led to Hibs' second, with Fletcher pouncing on Kyle Naughton's botched clearance to lash in a left-foot volley from 25 yards.

The Scotland under-21 striker has been advised by George Burley to stay in Edinburgh, and Hibs can only hope their prize asset pays heed to the new Scotland coach's counsel. Gretna, on the other hand, would be glad to see the back of a player who continued to torment them, rattling the underside of the bar with a snapshot, before forcing a tremendous save from Greg Fleming as half-time neared.

Irons' side seemed powerless to resist and although the impressive Kissock began the second half as he had the first, by stinging the fingertips of Ma-Kalamby, Fletcher took just 12 minutes to seemingly put the outcome beyond doubt. Gretna's marking afforded him acres of space to chest down Filipe Morais' floated cross and, once again, his finish was emphatic, the ball flashing off his left boot into the top right-hand corner.

The Hibs fans sat back in anticipation of their hero going on to complete his hat-trick and, though their wait was ultimately rewarded, they had to endure some unnecessarily nervy moments as first Gavin Skelton, then Kenny Deuchar, found space in the box to hand Gretna an unlikely lifeline.

That was until the final minute, when Fleming was sent off for bringing down Nish as he charged through. With Deuchar deputising between the sticks, Fletcher stroked home the perfect penalty to ensure that Hibs leapfrogged Hearts, Falkirk and Inverness Caledonian Thistle to make a welcome return to the top six.

Hibernian (4-3-1-2) Ma-Kalambay; Gathuessi, Hogg, Murray, Zarabi; Morais (Chisholm 69), Beuzelin (Kerr 59), Rankin; Shiels (O'Brien 75); Nish, Fletcher. Subs: McNeil, Stevenson, Benjelloun, Zemmama. Booked Morais Gretna (4-4-1-1) Fleming; Naughton, Barr, Collin (Schultz-Eklund 69), Meynell (McGill 60); Griffiths (Deverdics 60), Murray, Buscher, Skelton; Kissock; Deuchar. Subs: Krysiak, Makinwa, Wilkinson, Baldaccino. Sent off Fleming. Booked Murray