PAIN was etched all over Darren Barr’s face. He had just scored in an Edinburgh derby, yet Hearts lost in his final ever appearance at Tynecastle.
It wasn’t bitter-sweet. Just bitter. Barr must now contemplate a future away from Hearts at the end of a season in which Hibs are unbeaten after five Edinburgh derbies.
The defender prodded the opening goal of yesterday’s encounter in first-half stoppage-time to rekindle memories of his strike in last year’s all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final. He even reproduced the same celebration with arms jabbing in and out by his side. Yet this season’s Hibs team contains significantly more character than that which capitulated at Hampden Park 12 months ago.
One-nil down at the interval, the visitors overhauled the deficit by virtue of a stupefying Leigh Griffiths free-kick and Ross Caldwell’s dramatic late winner. They did so with 19-year-old Jordon Forster debuting at centre-back in place of James McPake. It was their first victory at Tynecastle in four years, since Derek Riordan’s penalty winner in May 2009, and the first time they had gone undefeated against Hearts all season since 2000/01.
“That makes it even worse,” said Barr when informed that Hearts’ four-year home record in derbies had fallen. “It’s always sore when it happens right at the end. It’s horrible. I thought we defended well at times but we weren’t at the races. My goal probably came against the run of play but you never know what can happen in derbies.
“We didn’t come out at the right tempo in the second half. In recent weeks we’ve been good but we need to have a look at ourselves. It’s a derby and it’s the last game at home, what we produced was not good enough. It’s not nice to get beat off rivals. I’ve enjoyed my time here but we need to pick ourselves up at Aberdeen next week.”
Caldwell suggested after the match that the balance of power in Edinburgh is slowly swinging away from Gorgie across towards Leith. Barr, not surprisingly, took issue with that assertion.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he retorted. “There’s still nothing in it. It would take years before Hibs could say that.”
What they can say after a game of few clear openings is that they have a clinical edge, none more so than Griffiths. His 30-yard free-kick nestled in the top corner of Jamie MacDonald’s net after arcing in from around 30 yards out. It was the striker’s 28th goal of the season, taking him ever nearer his target of 30. If Wolves don’t decide to retain his services for next year’s League One campaign, Hibs must pray he returns to Easter Road.
Hearts did not have anything like the same unpredictability in attack. John Sutton and Michael Ngoo endured frustrating afternoons and were given little to feed off. The in-form Jamie Walker was stifled by the wily Alan Maybury and Hearts’ other midfielders – Jason Holt, Ryan Stevenson and Mehdi Taouil – were unable to exert any control.
In defence, reinstating Andy Webster after suspension proved a futile exercise. It was the Hibs back line, where Forster partnered Paul Hanlon, which was the more reliable – although it should be said Barr enjoyed a fine display. The problem for Hearts was they could not find the rhythm that overwhelmed St Mirren in their previous outing, resulting in a 3-0 win.
The Hearts manager Gary Locke acknowledged the paucity of performance in comparison with recent weeks. “It’s always bitter when you get beaten in a derby but the disappointing thing for me was the performance,” he explained. “We didn’t get going at all. Not beating Hibs in a season is not really something I thought about, to be honest. Over the years, we’ve had the better record against them. It’s a sore one to take. All we can do now is look ahead, try to get a few new players in and go again next season.
“We have been playing well and getting plaudits for the last three or four weeks. We didn’t perform, which is not something you can put a finger on. Early in the game Hibs played at a tempo and that’s the tempo I was looking for from my players. In a derby game you need to be at it and win your individual battles. For me, we lost too many.
“At half-time we came in 1-0 up and didn’t deserve to be ahead. There weren’t a lot of chances but Hibs won more second balls because they were on to them quicker. We gave away a silly free-kick and everyone knows what Leigh Griffiths is capable of from distance. It was a fantastic strike. The second goal came from our throw-in. We gave the ball away and they scored.
“We had a few half chances of our own but we couldn’t put them away. It’s disappointing to say the least.”
The impression given by some Hearts players is that they can’t wait to get this campaign over with. They emerged some 20 minutes after the final whistle to thank supporters for their loyalty through one of the most testing seasons in recent memory. Not many stayed behind to applaud at the end of an afternoon and a year they would mostly rather forget.