HEARTS maintained their eight-year unbeaten run against Hibs at Easter Road last night, but could count themselves more than a little fortunate to withstand a virtuoso first-half performance from Alex Miller’s men, to which Michael Weir made a superb contribution.
The Tynecastle side were much more in evidence as an attacking force in the second period, when their defence noticeably tightened up and Sandy Clark won a tremendous amount of possession in the air.
Hibs should have had the game tied up before the interval, but Hearts looked the more likely winners in the closing minutes. John Colquhoun scored both the goals for Hearts, while George McCluskey and Weir counted for Hibs.
In a first-class encounter, Hibs showed more spirit than had been evident in a derby for a number of years. For once they looked like they wanted to win, and Hearts had to call on considerable reserves of strength and opportunism to take a point.
Hibs striker, Steve Cowan, who last started a game ten weeks ago, returned to first-team action. With Weir and Joe McBride attacking from wide positions, and Paul Kane helping Dougie Bell to run the show in midfield, Hibs looked the more eager outfit for most of the opening 45 minutes.
After McBride and Gordon Rae had both contributed worthwhile early efforts, Hibs deservedly took the lead in the tenth minute when McCluskey struck a low shot from the left that goalkeeper Henry Smith might have saved. But he could do no more than fumble the shot as it went in off the bottom of the back post.
In spite of dominating the outfield play – they had the brightest player afield in little Weir – Hibs found themselves trailing to a couple of spectacular goals by the Hearts forward, Colquhoun.
The former Celtic striker grabbed an equaliser within seconds of McCluskey’s goal, latching on to a loose ball some 22 yards out and beating Alan Rough with a shot that dipped into the net at the top left-hand corner.
In the 16th minute Hearts were in front, courtesy of a speculative long through ball from Walter Kidd that was guarded by no fewer than three Hibs defenders and yet was lamely knocked down into Colquhoun’s path. From 25 yards, the forward pounced to connect with a beautiful volley that soared beyond Rough into the right-hand corner.
Playing fluent football against a Hearts defence who were at sixes and sevens for the most part, Hibs didn’t deserve to be behind, but they could have fallen even further in arrears when Alan Sneddon slipped up and allowed the predatory Colquhoun another glimpse of goal.
However, Weir should certainly have equalised when McCluskey’s cross wasn’t properly cleared by the hesitant Hearts defence. The midfield player only had Smith to beat from six yards but clipped his shot wide of the post.
In a first half of non-stop action, Weir subsequently had a shot cleared off the line by Jimmy Sandison before claiming a belated equaliser in the 32nd minute. McCluskey was the provider with a low cross on the left, and Weir was on hand to shove the ball over the line. It was a competitive rather than an indisciplined opening period, and Sandison could count himself most unfortunate to be booked for a fairly high challenge in which he won the ball cleanly.
The pace of the game remained unrelentingly quick in the second half though Hibs were not seen to such good effect down the right. McBride was much more in evidence on the left, beating Kidd with regular ease and delivering a superb right- foot pass in the 62nd minute that might have led to a goal had Kenny Black not made a timely interception.
The best that Hearts had to offer was the threat of Clark in the air. The centre-forward twice connected with useful headers – in both instances Rough responded with first-class saves. There was no doubt that Hearts needed a change and Andy Watson replaced Gary Mackay with 23 minutes remaining.
Hearts were more in command of the game in the final phase than at any other point. John Robertson brought a first-class diving save from Rough in the 74th minute, and there was a flowing move involving Robertson, Clark and Watson before the nearside linesman spotted Robertson offside. Rough also had to race 40 yards off his line to block a Robertson effort.
Two more Hearts players were cautioned in the second half, Robertson for a foul on Tommy McIntyre and Kidd for a deliberate handling offence.
Near the end, Bell of Hibs was also cautioned – his second booking in two matches for his new club.
Hibernian: Rough, Sneddon, McIntyre, Mitchell, Rae Bell, Weir, Kane McCluskey, Cowan, McBride. Subs: Collins, May.
Hearts: Smith, Kidd, Black, Sandison, Berry, McDonald, Colquhoun, I Jardine, Clark, Mackay, Robertson. Subs: Foster, Watson.
Referee: J Duncan.