Football: Hartley warms to swift return

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The Independent Online
St Mirren 1

Kerr 87

Hibernian 2

Paatelainen 51, Hartley 82

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 6,604

HIBERNIAN, unlike their former Scottish Premier League partners, do not intend to break their rhythm at the merest hint of winter. The Edinburgh club remain on course to return there at the first attempt, extending their unbeaten run at the top of the First Division to 17 games thanks to the clinical finishing of Mixu Paatelainen and Paul Hartley. The substitute Hartley's opportunism when he swept in Pat McGinlay's 82nd- minute cross proved crucial because Chris Kerr's fine goal for St Mirren four minutes later made Hibs sweat.

It is seven years since St Mirren dropped out of the top flight, and they remain around pounds 2m in debt, hence the majority of unheralded, fresh faces which populated the selection of the manager Tom Hendrie, himself a relative novice. Two of those young tiros, Junior Mendes and Kerr, ought to have secured an eighth-minute lead after combining sweetly, but the latter scooped his shot wide.

Hibs responded by peppering the Paisley club's eccentric goalkeeper, Ludovic Roy, with shots. Russell Latapy, their gifted Trinidadian forward, threatened most with two efforts which curled just wide of Roy's post. Kerr then squandered another chance in the 23rd minute, after Mark Yardley's knock-down had left the youngster with the goal at his mercy.

The game needed an injection of real passion and it was provided in the 43rd minute when the Hibs striker Stevie Crawford was booked , his second in a matter of minutes, for diving and was subsequently red-carded. Hibs' rage was uncontained.

The half-time interval had failed to dilute the resentment and Paatelainen was booked in the 50th minute for a dreadful challenge on Tommy Turner. However, within 60 seconds the Hibs striker had silenced the hostile home supporters. Paatelainen was in on the move's inception, picking out Latapy who drew three St Mirren defenders towards him before checking in his stride and switching a reverse pass to Paatelainen for the Finnish international to crash a low left-foot shot into the corner of the net from 20 yards.

St Mirren sought to turn the tide by substituting the teenage forward Steven McGarry with Gerry Creaney, the former Celtic player whom Manchester City paid pounds 1m for just three years ago but these days is reduced to merely a bit part.