Bottom club Dunfermline kept their hopes of SPL survival alive with an important 3-0 win over Aberdeen on Saturday, as Motherwell consolidated their grip on third in the table and prospective Champions League football.
SPL Analysis: Dundee United v Hearts
Dunfermline's win also meant Inverness Caledonian Thistle failed to confirm their top-flight survival for another season as they succumbed to defeat against Kilmarnock, ending up on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller.
Andy Kirk scored twice as Dunfermline moved within three points of Hibernian and Aberdeen became the first away side to taste defeat at East End Park this season.
Kirk headed in a 68th-minute cross from Joe Cardle, who had put the Pars in front 12 minutes earlier, before capitalising on a defensive mix-up for a third after 77 minutes as the Pars celebrated a first home win of the campaign.
The result saw Jim Jefferies' men end a 12-match winless run but more importantly cut the gap to Hibs, who play St Mirren on Sunday, while the eighth-placed Dons, who lacked a cutting edge throughout, are now four points adrift of Kilmarnock.
It was Jefferies' first win as Pars boss since succeeding Jim McIntyre last month and the former Hearts manager has avoided defeat in three of his five matches in charge.
Motherwell thrashed St Johnstone 5-1 at Fir Park to clinch a European place and strengthen their grip on a Champions League spot.
Two goals in three first-half minutes from Michael Higdon and Nicky Law put Motherwell in command and Jamie Murphy scored the pick of their goals with a volley just after the interval.
Liam Craig pulled one back from the spot but substitute Henrik Ojamaa netted two late goals on the break as Motherwell moved five points clear in third place in the Scottish Premier League.
A late equaliser for Hearts against Dundee United in the lunchtime kick-off had prevented Motherwell dropping out of the top three for only the second time this season and they capitalised on their closest rivals' slip-up emphatically.
The win moved Motherwell eight points above St Johnstone and nine above Hearts and, with both of those clubs playing each other in the final three games, Motherwell cannot finish outside the top five.
Two Dean Shiels goals in the final 10 minutes gave Kilmarnock a thrilling 4-3 victory over 10-man Inverness.
Jamie Fowler tapped in after 14 minutes when Ryan Esson failed to hold a Danny Racchi shot. Close range finishes by Billy McKay after 29 and 35 minutes put Inverness ahead, but Jonny Hayes was sent off for a second yellow card.
Michael Nelson headed a 66th-minute equaliser and Shiels struck twice before Steve Williams' poked reply.
In the day's early kick-off, a glorious late strike by substitute Arvydas Novikovas gave Hearts a share of the spoils as their clash with Dundee United finished 2-2 at Tannadice.
United took the lead in the 32nd minute when midfielder Willo Flood fired in a powerful 35-yard drive but three minutes later the visitors were level through a Rudi Skacel header.
In the 65th minute Gary Mackay-Steven regained the lead for United when he drove in from the edge of the box and it looked like Peter Houston's men would go on and complete the clean sweep over the Jambos this season.
However, the Tynecastle side came back strongly in the final stages and with seven minute remaining, Novikovas, on four minutes earlier for Andrew Driver, levelled with a powerful drive from 25 yards to send the Gorgie fans in the crowd of 7,001 home happy.