THE match was forgettable, but the result may just have an impact far beyond the usual significance of three points.
Scorer: Hearts - Paterson (72)
After losing at St Johnstone last week, Hearts needed a morale-boosting victory to start eating into the 15-point deduction with which they began the season, and they got it thanks to a powerful second-half header by Callum Paterson.
Gary Locke’s team still face a tough uphill battle to escape relegation, and their task will be made harder by the first-half injury to Ryan Stevenson which could force the midfielder out of action for months. But this was a result that showed they can win against the odds, and will give both them and their supporters genuine belief.
For Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon, the outcome could be just as significant. Up against one of the smallest and least experienced Hearts squads in more than three decades, Hibs should have had more than enough ability in their ranks to extend their unbeaten run in the fixture to six games. Instead, they continued to look disjointed and have now played four competitive matches this season without scoring a goal.
Nearly 21 months into Fenlon’s tenure, there is no evidence that they are any closer now to being a coherent outfit than there was when he took over from Colin Calderwood. Individually, they are not bad players; the problem comes when they play together, and in that respect the buck stops with the boss.
This was, in fact, the first match played at Tynecastle since the last derby, won by Hibs with a last-minute goal by Ross Caldwell. That may have been an encouraging memory for the visitors, who were unbeaten in all five games against Hearts last season, but they showed little of the collective tenacity, and none of the cutting edge, which had stood them in good stead in the fixture then.
Hearts, by contrast, looked lively, and played the bulk of what little football was on show. The game was played 11 years to the day since Mark de Vries scored four times on his home debut in a 5-1 demolition of Hibs, and, although not even close to that one-sided result, given the circumstances, it could still go down as one of the most notable derby outcomes of recent times.
The first incident of note came after almost ten minutes, when Ryan Stevenson needed treatment after taking a knock. The midfielder insisted on playing on for a few minutes, but was then replaced by Jamie Walker.
Up to that point, there had been little in the game other than raw energy, with Hearts having the territorial edge yet doing little with it. On his own up front, Paterson was unable to do much with the scant rations that were coming his way.
Hibs had James Collins and Rowan Vine together as their strike force for the first time, but the first time either of them featured was when Vine clashed angrily with Scott Robinson after Jamie Hamill went down injured in midfield. Referee Craig Thomson calmed things down, at least temporarily, and Hamill was able to carry on.
More than half an hour had been played by the time the first attempt on goal was made at either end. Vine set it up with a knockdown, but Liam Craig’s shot went straight to Jamie MacDonald.
A Jamie Hamill free kick at the other end two minutes later was just as comfortably saved by Ben Williams. The foul had been awarded after Scott Robertson went over the top of David Smith to stretch for a header, and the Hibs player was booked for persistent fouling.
Five minutes before the break, Craig, a frequent danger with dead balls with St Johnstone last season, was given the chance to show what he could do with an award 25 yards out. His delivery was at least better than his lame attempt against Motherwell a week earlier, but, even so, presented no difficulty to MacDonald.
Hearts enjoyed a good spell of pressure in the last ten minutes of the first half, and Hamill had another shot from outside the box saved by Williams after Jason Holt had beaten three men in a confined position midway inside the Hibs half. Kevin McHattie had the last chance of the half from another free kick, but the full-back sent it wide of the left post.
Ryan McGivern made his return from injury at the start of the second half, coming on for Mullen. The former Manchester City defender slotted into the Hibs back four at left-back, while Lewis Stevenson moved across to take Mullen’s place at right-back.
McGivern was involved immediately, putting in a well-timed tackle on Walker to snuff out a promising Hearts attack, then Collins chested the ball down well only to send his low shot wide of the far post.
As play continued to be devoid of any discernible pattern, Hamill had the next chance with a right-foot drive towards the top right corner, which was acrobatically saved by Williams. In the next attack, a flick by the same Hearts player hit Stevenson on the arm, and the referee rightly waved away home pleas for a penalty.
With an hour played, Tom Taiwo came on for Robertson, and the midfielder soon had what proved to be Hibs’ best chance of the match. A break up the left saw Collins pass infield to Craig, whose short cross was perfectly placed for Taiwo to run on to. The substitute slid in to make contact, but failed to get any control on his attempt and sent the ball over the bar.
Then came the breakthrough. Two or three Hibs defenders had an opportunity to break up a Hearts attack down the right, but the ball broke back to McGowan. The Australian crossed to the near post and Paterson leapt up to send a powerful header crashing into the net. Sam Stanton came on a few minutes later in place of the ineffectual Tudur Jones, but neither he nor any other member of the Hibs team was capable of making a decisive pass.
The visitors’ best chance to equalise came when Hanlon headed over after a Vine corner from the right had been sent back across goal but, apart from that, they put little pressure on Hearts in the game’s closing stages.
Hearts: MacDonald, McGowan, McKay, Wilson, McHattie, Smith (B King 80), Robinson, Hamill, Stevenson (Walker 12), Holt, Paterson. Subs not used: Ridgers, Tapping, Carrick, Nicholson, McGhee.
Hibernian: Williams, Mullen (McGivern 46), Nelson, Hanlon, Stevenson, Robertson (Taiwo 61), Thomson, Tudur Jones (Stanton 75), Craig, Vine, Collins. Subs not used: Murdoch, Handling, Forster, Caldwell.