Paatelainen hat-trick strengthens Hibs' hand

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Hibernian confirmed that their own Scottish championship ambitions are far from hype when they savaged their Edinburgh rivals in pursuit of Celtic yesterday.

Hibernian confirmed that their own Scottish championship ambitions are far from hype when they savaged their Edinburgh rivals in pursuit of Celtic yesterday.

Mixu Paatelainen wreaked havoc with a hat-trick, the final goal a ruthless shot from John O'Neil's cross, but late goals from O'Neil and then Russell Latapy stripped Hearts of their dignity.

O'Neil's shot, which made it 5-1 with ten minutes left was worth savouring, but that was eclipsed by Latapy's sumptuous volley. Colin Cameron's late consolation could not dent the party mood.

In-form Hibernian came into the second Edinburgh derby of the campaign with a massive incentive to win the points which would keep the pressure on league leaders Celtic.

The Parkhead outfit went eight points clear of Alex McLeish's side yesterday with victory over Dundee United and Rangers were unable to make up ground on their Old Firm rivals after a disastrous defeat at St Johnstone.

The men from Ibrox are 12 points adrift of Celtic and four behind Hibernian, who were looking to continue their impressive run by defeating their city rivals at Easter Road in front of the Sky TV cameras.

They were flying after last week's win over Rangers and McLeish had the luxury of fielding the same side, but they were facing a side who are in the ascendancy after a slow start.

Jim Jefferies' men have won their last two games impressively and he made just one change from team which beat Dundee United 4-0 last week.

Thomas Flogel came in to replace Grant Murray, who dropped to the bench, while Hibs had to be wary of in-form strikers Gordon Durie and Andy Kirk, who were looking to continue their success in front of goal. The confidence, which surged through a raucous Easter Road, was punctured after just five minutes when Kirk gave Hearts an undreamt of lead.

Durie's surge down the left opened up space for Steve Fulton to deliver a perfect cutback form the by line which was met by Kirk, who stole in ahead of Paul Fenwick to stab the ball past keeper Nick Colgan.

Hibernian, however, maintained their shape and refused to chase after the game in a frenetic fashion. They thought they had been rewarded for such patience in the 24th minute when Paatelainen buried a header from Russell Latapy's corner, but the Finn's effort was ruled out for a push by a team-mate.

However, there was no argument when Paatelainen thrashed in an equaliser in the 43rd minute. Steven Pressley's poor chest control from Latapy's cross, saw the ball spin loose to Paatelainen and he buried the ball past Niemi.

Seconds before half-time, Paatelainen then put Hibs in front after the Hearts defence slept when Latapy's corner came over. Ulrick Laursen's header found the Finn and he bundled the ball past Niemi.

Easter Road, though, simply became one giant green party five minutes into the second half when Zitelli increased the lead, after LAtapy had released him and holding off Pressley to guide his shot beyond the goalkeeper.

Goals: Kirk (5) 0-1, Paatelainen (43) 1-1, (45) 2-1 Zitelli (51) 3-1, Paatelainen (74) 4-1, O'Neil (81) 5-1, Latapy (84) 6-1, Cameron (89) 5-2.

Hibernian (3-5-2): Colgan; Smith, Sauzee, Fenwick, Lovell, Latapy, Jack (Andrews 38), O'Neil, Laursen, Zitelli, Paatelainen. Substitutes not used: Franks, Lehmann, Bannerman, Murray.

Heart of Midlothian (4-3-3): Niemi; Flogel, Pressley, James, Fulton, Tomaschek (McSwegan 55), G Petric (Murray 58), Cameron, Juanjo, Kirk (Jackson 55), Durie. Substitutes not used: McKenzie, Severin.

Referee: H Dallas.

Man of the match: Paatelainen.

Attendance: 12,926.