IF THIS was a dry run for the Edinburgh derby, Hibs had better watch out. Their challenge at Easter Road next Sunday will be to do what quite a number of their former players failed to do at Tynecastle yesterday, namely stop the Hearts juggernaut that is destroying just about everything in its path.
Scorers: Hearts - Sow 26; Bauben 38pen; Holt 56; Paterson 83; King 87; Dumbarton - Fleming 72
Ian Murray, the Dumbarton manager, used to play for Hibs, as did his assistant, Guillaume Beuzelin, together with Colin Nish and David Van Zanten, all of whom were given quite a ribbing by the Hearts support here, not just for taking a beating, but for doing so by the same 5-1 scoreline that cost them their dignity in the 2012 Scottish Cup final.
The parallel was not lost on the Hearts support when their team went 4-1 up thanks to goals by Osman Sow, Prince Bauben, Jason Holt and Callum Paterson. “We want five,” they chanted before Billy King obliged near the end. It was the ninth time this season that they had scored a league goal in the last ten minutes.
“They score a lot of goals late in games,” said Murray. “It’s testament to their fitness levels and their professionalism that they keep going right to the end. I said to the guys after: ‘We are not the first team to come here and lose that many goals, and we won’t be the last’.”
Strangely enough, Hearts were not at their best. Their second goal, a penalty, should have been saved by the goalkeeper, and a 3-0 lead bred complacency early in the second half. Murray also felt that the referee had not spotted infringements before the fourth and fifth goals.
Not that the Dumbarton manager had any quibble with the outcome. Hearts’ record of nine wins and a draw from ten Championship matches speaks for itself. “You can’t argue with the league table,” he said. “They are nine points clear and they have scored another five goals. Anybody that tries to argue they’re not the best team in the league at this moment is wrong.”
Dumbarton were responsible for Hearts’ only dropped points this season, but this time, their resistance lasted less than half an hour. Callum Paterson bent a perfect cross into the six-yard box, where Sow adjusted his body quickly enough to direct a downward header past Danny Rogers.
As Murray reflected later, it might have been different had the Hearts goalkeeper not denied them a quick equaliser. When Scott Linton’s cross picked out Andy Graham in a pocket of space, the defender’s side-footed volley was turned round the post by Neil Alexander.
If Linton’s contribution to that effort was worthy of praise, his intervention at the other end seven minutes later was utterly inexplicable.
Only the Dumbarton defender knows why he came careering out to meet a loose ball with such abandon that he clattered King and left the referee with no option but to award a penalty.
Bauben’s spot kick was poor, but it squirmed through the goalkeeper’s body.
Rogers could have done better with that one, but he made up for it on the cusp of half-time when another inviting Paterson cross teed up Soufian El Hassnoui.
It looked as though the striker needed only to make a decent contact with the advancing ball, but when he did, the goalkeeper somehow kept it out.
At the start of the second half, Holt came on for Sow, who had a tight hamstring. While there was a period of adjustment for Hearts, they were soon back in their rhythm, threatening a third.
Sam Nicholson almost provided it when he collected the ball from a throw-in, dribbled up the bye-line and struck an angled shot off the underside of the crossbar. Holt announced his arrival with his first goal of the season. When the ball came to him outside the penalty area, the Dumbarton defence – and Graham in particular – backed off long enough to let him release a low drive that skidded into the bottom corner.
Paterson had a shot saved, King battered one wide and Jordan Kirkpatrick’s curling effort zipped by at the other end, leaving the distinct impression that there were more goals to come. So it proved when Nish leapt to head a corner back across goal so that Garry Fleming could hook it over the line.
Hearts had taken their foot off the pedal, which was why Steven MacDougall had a shot saved, and Graham got in a free header, but any hope of a comeback was soon buried.
First, Paterson rose at the back post to head in a corner amid claims that there had been a foul on the goalkeeper. Then, King burst into the penalty area, where his low drive proved just too powerful for Rogers.
At full-time, Neilson dashed off to see Hibs play Livingston in preparation for next week’s derby, leaving Stevie Crawford, his assistant, to talk about the pressure of leading a title race.
“It is a challenge for everyone, myself and Robbie included,” he said. “We are new to this.”
Not that you would notice.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, McGhee, Eckersley, King, Bauben (Pallardo 68), Gomis, Nicholson (Walker 76), El Hassnoui, Sow (Holt 46). Subs not used: Hamilton, McHattie, McKay, Buchanan.
Dumbarton: Rogers, Van Zanten, Taggart, Graham, Linton, Gilhaney, Kirkpatrick (McDougall 79), Fleming, Agnew (MacDonald 64), Megginson, Nish (Campbell 73). Subs not used: Ewings, Mair, McLaughlin.
Referee: J McKendrick.