David Goodwillie scored after two minutes and tapped in a second after 35 minutes as United appeared set to defy a weather-enforced five-week break.
But after Sol Bamba headed in a 44th-minute equaliser and substitute Danny Swanson was sent off for two bookable offences for the visitors, Hanlon diverted a Danny Galbraith drive to earn Hibs a point.
Last season United finished third and Hibs fourth as both sides qualified for Europe, but Aberdeen’s 1-0 win at Hamilton earlier today meant the capital club began the evening one place above Accies at the foot of the table.
However, Hibs’ point drew them level with Aberdeen on 16 points ahead of Saturday’s Edinburgh derby with Hearts.
Colin Calderwood – now with two wins and two draws from 10 games in charge – responded to the Boxing Day loss to the Dons by making five changes, but Hibs remained poor in the first half and were distinctly second best to a United side playing for the first time since November 20 following the Arctic weather across Scotland.
Despite the lengthy break United boss Peter Houston was so short of options in defence that captain Jon Daly, usually a striker and wearing the number nine jersey, was deployed as a direct replacement for suspended centre-back Garry Kenneth.
Hibs had hoped to catch United cold, but the visitors went ahead after two minutes.
Goodwillie, who scored an 87th-minute winner as United beat Hibs in Calderwood’s second match in charge on October 30, was on target again.
Bamba, who was returning following a hamstring problem, gave the ball away to Johnny Russell just inside the Hibs half and Russell swiftly fed Goodwillie to race through one on one and tuck in under Mark Brown.
United went close to adding to their advantage when Daly headed against the bar from Barry Douglas’ inswinging corner before Russell sent a free header over.
Lewis Stevenson shot tamely at Dusan Pernis before Derek Riordan’s left-foot volley stung the palms of the United goalkeeper.
The visitors claimed a second after 35 minutes following good work down the left by Paul Dixon.
The full-back might have gone down under Michael Hart’s challenge in the area but stayed on his feet and centred for Goodwillie to tap in from two yards for his 10th of the season.
A minute from the interval a Morgaro Gomis foul on Stevenson presented Hibs with a chance to rescue something from a poor first half.
Riordan’s 25-yard free-kick was palmed onto the post by Pernis, but Bamba was first to react, nodding into the centre of the goal with the United goalkeeper off balance.
Merouane Zemmama was introduced as a half-time replacement for David Wotherspoon to play for the first time since suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury in March.
The goal and Zemmama’s presence lifted Hibs.
The Moroccan’s deflected shot went wide before Riordan had an effort blocked.
Swanson replaced Russell after 60 minutes and immediately found himself booked for a poorly-timed tackle on Galbraith.
The United midfielder then crossed only for Prince Bauben to head over.
Swanson’s cameo was over after 78 minutes when he was sent off for a second bookable offence after deliberately handling Douglas’ free-kick as the ball went out of play.
The substitute crashed into the advertising hoardings before referee Euan Norris showed him a second yellow card.
Calderwood made a double change with Liam Miller replacing Stevenson and Darryl Duffy, on loan from Bristol Rovers but making his debut after a metatarsal injury, on for Ian Murray.
Duffy shot straight at Pernis from long range before Hanlon netted, diverting Galbraith’s drive into the box beyond the United goalkeeper.
Dixon was then booked for a foul on Zemmama and Pernis punched clear the resulting free-kick from Riordan as the match ended level.