HIBS finally broke a 22-game winless run against Edinburgh rivals Hearts to send their supporters wild with delight.
The hoodoo was smashed with a goal by skipper Gordon Hunterwho became the first Hibs player to grab a derby winner since Eddie May had scored on January 4, 1989, and he admitted to being “a wee bit emotional’’ as euphoria broke out all around him after referee Les Mottram signalled the end of the match.
But he also revealed that he was petrified that Hibs might throw it all away again. He said: “It seemed like an eternity between me scoring and the final whistle. I asked the ref at one point how long there was to go and I couldn’t believe it when he said 15 minutes.
“We had the extra man and were a goal up and should have been pushing up on them instead of sitting too far back.
“They were piling on the pressure, but there was only one thought going through my mind – that they weren’t going to score and spoil it all again.”
Hunter’s strike was one worked on at the training ground, the defender peeling off the back to meet Dave Beaumont’s head-flick from Michael O’Neill’s corner. He said: “The ball actually ran away from me and I had to check for it. But it sat up nicely as I hit it and it was a brilliant feeling to see it hit the back of the net and our fans going daft at the same time.
“It was terrific that it happened at the end where our fans were sitting. It may not have been the best goal I have ever scored but it was the most important.”
As expected, the game started at a furious pace and, within a minute, Hibs’ Darren Jackson and Hearts’ Scott Leitch were squaring up to each other after a fierce collision in midfield. Hearts came close in the fourth minute when a 25-yard drive by Gary Mackay looked destined for the top left-hand corner, before Jim Leighton leaped to his left to turn the ball away.
It was all Hearts in the early stages and a superb ball by John Robertson sent Allan Johnston racing away, but he did not have the pace to escape Hunter.
Despite soaking up all that early pressure, Hibs broke away in the 15th minute and were unlucky not to take the lead through Gareth Evans. The striker collected a throw-in 20 yards out, stepped away from Craig Levein’s challenge and fired in a shot which Nicky Walker could only turn on to his right-hand post before the ball was cleared by Stephen Frail.
After the interval Hearts started where they left off and forced a corner in the first minute of the second half but could not force the ball home.
But Hibs took the lead from a corner in 62 minutes. O’Neill crossed into the centre of the box where Beaumont flicked the ball on for Hunter to arrive at the back post and fire an angled shot high into the net from ten yards to send the Hibs support wild.
In Hearts’ desperation to grab an equaliser, Frail and Johnston were booked in quick succession for fouls on Jackson and Steven Tweed respectively, but worse was to follow in 73 minutes when Mackay was sent packing after his second booking of the afternoon for pushing Hamilton on to the track as they chased the ball near the dug-out.
Hearts: Walker, Frail, McKinlay, Levein, Berry, McLaren, Colquhoun, Mackay, Robertson, Johnston, Leitch.
Hibs: Leighton, Miller (Tortolano), Hunter, Beaumont, Tweed, Harper (McAllister), Hamilton, Findlay, Evans, Jackson, O’Neill.