GARY Locke dedicated Hearts’ 2-0 Edinburgh derby win to the club’s supporters yesterday as the home team avoided relegation at the hands of their rivals.
Goals by Dale Carrick and Billy King meant the Hibernian fans’ planned party was well and truly pooped, while the closest Hibs themselves came to scoring was when a Jordon Forster header found the net but was ruled offside – a “horrendous decision”, according to Hibs boss Terry Butcher.
Hearts will still be officially demoted if they lose at home to Aberdeen on Wednesday night, but they were desperate to keep the issue alive beyond yesterday’s match. “It was a game we were very determined to win, because we knew the outcome if Hibs had won,” Locke said. “We’re delighted to give the fans something to shout about. They’ve not had a lot to shout about, it’s been a long hard season for us all, and that result was for them. They’ve been through a lot. We had to try to repay them today and thankfully we did.”
Defeat for seventh-placed Hibs rounded off a weekend in which all five teams below them picked up points. Their next match is against Aberdeen a week tonight, by which time their safety margin could have been reduced further.
Butcher accepted that his team had not put Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald under enough pressure, but was otherwise sparing in his criticism of his players. He was less lenient when it came to that offside ruling in the second half, which he suggested might have thwarted a comeback that would have led to Hibs winning. “It’s made
difficult by a horrendous decision,” he said when asked if he had just experienced one of his more difficult days in the dugout. “‘It’s just so disappointing when it’s a great header, a great goal, and it wasn’t even close to being offside.
“I had a few words with the linesman as I went up the
tunnel. I don’t care to repeat them. There was no explanation. It wasn’t really close. Unbelievable. I don’t know what has gone through his mind, but it’s not even marginal.
“We had momentum at that stage, scoring in front of our fans, attacking our fans in the second half. We felt that if we got one goal we could get more, go on and win the game.
“I don’t think we deserved to lose the game. We had good possession, passed it well, the system worked pretty well.
“But we didn’t test the ’keeper enough. Jamie MacDonald hasn’t had the most difficult of afternoons. We did well up to the final third – again. And it’s the final ball, the shots and crosses, we just don’t create. The boys have worked hard, but we’ve not done enough to score.”
The Hibs players, Butcher continued, had been openly self-critical after the game, which he regarded as an improvement. But when it came to performing the basics on the pitch, the manager could not deny that his team were still sadly lacking.
“There was some honesty there from the players. I’ve waited a long time for that to happen in the dressing room, to be honest.
“It has come out now. We’re looking forward to the challenge. We have to, with six games left.
“We need to get more points, simple as that. We’ve had a frank and open discussion, the players and the coaches. We need to pull our fingers out and get points on the board.
“Teams gained ground on us over the weekend. It’s only us who can ensure that we get as many points as we can. We’ve gone from a difficult team to play against, a team who score from set-pieces and grind out wins, to a team who don’t score and concede goals.
“That’s very disappointing and something we have to work on. We’ll do that.”
Locke, by contrast, praised the character and increasing maturity shown by his own team, but denied it had been simply a case of the Hearts players wanting the win more than their opponents. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I thought Hibs played their part in the game.
“We got a little bit of luck with Forster’s header: it was obviously onside. I don’t think you could say that Hibs never turned up. I thought they gave as good as we did. Fortunately for us we got the goals at the right time.
“One thing about the boys, their character has been great all season. Obviously today we’ve managed to get a favourable result, but I don’t think there are many games where you could say the players didn’t give it their all.
“What you’re seeing now is that some of them are a lot more physical, they’ve grown, they’ve worked tirelessly in the gym all season. It’s a little bit easier for us to compete now, whereas before we were maybe getting brushed off the ball a bit earlier in the season. You can see that in the last couple of months.
“It wouldn’t have been nice for Hibs to have come here and beat us. That would have been a hard one to take.”