French force inspires Hibs

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The Independent Online

The French connection put Hibernian back in touch with the Scottish Premier League leadership as Franck Sauzée and David Zitelli helped narrow the gap, albeit temporarily, on Celtic to a solitary point.

The French connection put Hibernian back in touch with the Scottish Premier League leadership as Franck Sauzée and David Zitelli helped narrow the gap, albeit temporarily, on Celtic to a solitary point.

Hibernian were desperate to atone for losing ground to the Parkhead side last weekend, and that was underlined after 10 minutes when John O'Neil almost punished the club he left in the summer. The gifted midfielder danced past Nick Dasovic on the edge of the box but his fierce right-foot shot was denied a goal by an acrobatic punch from St Johnstone's goalkeeper Alan Main.

However, O'Neill was principally recruited by Alex McLeish for his inventive touch in midfield, and five minutes later he played a deft role in a move, begun by Sauzée, which ended with Russell Latapy's sublime pass rolling into the path of Mixu Paatelainen. The Finnish international was poised to finish things off when the moment of beauty was wrecked by the lunge of Jim Weir.

The linesman said the foul had been committed outside the box, though it looked in, but there was a triple indemnity for Weir to pay. The St Johnstone captain, hurt while making the tackle, was carried off and shown a red card at the same time - as the last man - before, after a two-minute delay, Sauzée drilled a low right-foot free-kick around the wall beyond Main's dive.

St Johnstone's 10 men barely had time to organise themselves before Sauzée's compatriot, Zitelli, doubled Hibs' lead in the 24th minute. Again the composed Latapy provided the pass which beat the offside trap, allowing the man who destroyed Liverpool a few years ago when he was with Strasbourg to steer an arrogant lob over Main with the outside of his left boot.

The Edinburgh club monopolised the ball thereafter and poor Saints were left to contemplate damage limitation. However, Dasovic came close to halving the deficit in the 52nd minute when he caught a volley fully 30 yards out that was destined for the bottom corner until Nick Colgan got across to push it wide.

The margin looked to be worse, though, when Zitelli found the net again, three minutes later, guiding the ball past Main from an acute angle, but the Frenchman was denied his second goal for barging Alan Kernaghan out of the way en route.

O'Neill was the next to have a go, when a surging run ended with a shot that flew just over Main's crossbar. The keeper even blocked Sauzée's venomous effort with his foot.

However, Latapy chose to add a dash of subtlety in the 73rd minute to make it 3-0. The elusive Trinidadian left Dasovic for dead before bending his shot inside the far post.

Sauzée is a already an icon in Edinburgh but Zitelli will become one if he uncorks more like the vintage goal - his first for the club - he scored in this truly stylish success.

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