Lovell's double delivers lasting delight for Hibs

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HIbernian Continue to turn the world upside down, so who better than an Australian to keep them in their unlikely position at the top of the Scottish Premier League.

HIbernian Continue to turn the world upside down, so who better than an Australian to keep them in their unlikely position at the top of the Scottish Premier League.

Stuart Lovell's double ensured that the Edinburgh club will remain there, regardless of the outcome of today's Old Firm encounter, for at least another fortnight until the SPL resumes after Scotland's World Cup duties.

The icing on the cake was Lovell's second goal deep into injury time. Gathering a pass from Franck Sauzée with his back to goal, he curled a left-foot shot beyond the St Mirren goalkeeper, Ludovic Roy.

Hibernian's new found status brought a greater sense of anticipation from their fans and it would have been justified had Mixu Paatelainen put them in front after just seven minutes. The giant Finn connected with Gary Smith's free-kick to conjure a looping header that appeared to be dipping over Roy until he arched backwards to push the ball over the bar.

However, progress carries problems as well as rewards. St Mirren gave the league leaders healthy respect and were not inclined to let Russell Latapy dictate play from the middle of the park. They stoked a ferocious opening 20 minutes in which there was little break in the suffocating pace.

Indeed, St Mirren might have been in front had it not been for an admirable piece of honesty from Jose Quitongo. The forward produced a breathtaking turn to elude John O'Neil and appeared to be tripped by Franck Sauzée as he burst into the box , but Quitongo tried to stay on his feet, allowing the goalkeeper Nick Colgan to smother the danger, and was not awarded a penalty.

Hibs gathered themselves by the half-hour, and were unfortunate not to see adventurous runs from deep by Latapy and Matthias Jack bring reward; on each occasion the width of the post was all that separated the ball from goal.

When Sauzée's 25-yard free-kick was beaten out by the impressive Roy, the game was taking on a frustrating pattern for Hibs, but, two minutes before the interval, Lovell broke the deadlock.

Sauzée, as usual, played a vital role, with a fine diagonal pass which O'Neil controlled with his chest before cutting inside the area. He slipped a pass to Lovell, who stabbed the ball past Roy from 12 yards to an explosion of noise from a relieved Easter Road.

Paatelainen almost doubled that advantage three minutes into the second half, when he found space inside the box, but the striker's shot was pawed away by the alert Roy.

The Finn, though, refused to be discouraged. He earned another sight of goal when Paul Fenwick threaded a sublime pass through to his feet, but Barry McLaughlin read the intention and blocked Paatelainen's shot at the expense of a corner.

That gave Easter Road another chance to sample Sauzée's repertoire of skills. The former Marseille and France playmaker, operating this season as a sweeper, was unnoticed lurking on the edge of the box and Latapy's outswinging corner found him. Sauzée audaciously tried to pass the ball in rather than bludgeoning it and it took a goalline intervention from Iain Nicolson to prevent the controlled volley from finding the net.

Gary Smith, too, opted for the deft touch with a clever lob on the hour which almost dipped below the scrambling Roy's crossbar.

Yet, Hibs, for all their pressure, could not find the killer goal they craved and St Mirren refused to give up their relentless pursuit of an equaliser until Lovell struck again.