IT IS a rare sight. Hearts being bullied and pressed, with no thought for reputation. It was a tactic Hibs adopted with relish as this match developed and it served them well in the opening spell.
Scorers: Hearts - Walker 40; Hibernian - Cummings 23
Hustled physically, Hearts remained mentally strong and weathered Hibs’ domination in the early part of the encounter and refused to buckle after Jason Cummings scored the opener to give the guests the lead their efforts deserved. Hearts still came back courtesy of a wonderful Jamie Walker strike.
Having done all the hard work, by the time the whistle signalled the end of the first half, Alan Stubbs’ men headed up the tunnel aware that they would have to do it all over again in the second half.
That summed up the frustration for Hibs in recent weeks. They have, undoubtedly, turned a corner, they are playing better football and performing much better as a team but despite that they can’t make up any ground on their capital rivals. Anything they do, Hearts simply equal or surpass. It means that despite having the better of the play for long spells in all three derbies so far this season, they have only two points from nine from those head-to-heads.
It also means that while they have lost only one of their past 13 league games, they remain 19 points adrift of Hearts.
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It looked as if they could eat into that tally as they tried to end the Championship leaders’ lengthy unbeaten run that now stretches to 19 games. Hibs were the last side to deny them all three points, at Easter Road in October, when only a late Alim Ozturk piledriver snatched a draw and again, Hibs put on the superior showing in the first half an hour of this match.
Scott Allan was the man at the heart of it all. He was cranking up the enmity, agitating the home team and panicking the Hearts fans and once he had done all that, in the 23rd minute, he then weighed in with an inch-perfect cross which Cummings got his left foot to, sticking the ball into the back of the net.
It was a dagger to the home crowd, who watched a lad who was once one of their own peel away from goal and head to within a couple of metres of the unimpressed inhabitants of the main stand where he celebrated with his team-mates, gesturing as he went. It enraged the home fans and also failed to impress referee Steven McLean, who booked the goalscorer. He said it was a moment he had been waiting for since he was released by his boyhood heroes, and he rued the fact he could not double his tally when another delivery found his head, but he failed to capitalise.
It was a costly miss as it allowed Hearts to head in at the break on level terms. For all Allan’s offensive work, when Adam Eckersley slid the ball inside for Walker with five minutes of that first half remaining, the Hibs midfielder was too slow to close him down and Mark Oxley, in the visitors’ goal, could do nothing to prevent the ball billowing the net. He too got a little caught up in his celebrations according to the referee, but given the importance of that strike and the fact that it had materialised out of almost nothing, maybe it was understandable.
The second half saw Hearts have a greater say, but they still couldn’t quash the Hibs uprising. The visitors had a shout for a penalty when Miguel Pallardo seemed to block Danny Handling, but it was one of three appeals within that half and the officials granted none of them. And with 20 minutes remaining, it should have been 2-1 to Hibs when another delightful ball in from Allan required just a simple finish at the back post but Callum Paterson appeared and hooked the ball clear.
It was only one of a few desperate blocks in the closing stages. But Hearts have benefitted from the stubborn determination all season. While Hibs had the pressure and even a few half-chances, Hearts had something extra, something that burned deep within them, a desire not to endure their first league defeat at the hands of their old foes.
But the fact that Prince Buaben exited the play at a snail’s pace when substituted in the 88th minute showed that they were aware it remained a real possibility. The time wasting, along with the last-ditch blocks, proved they would do anything to prevent that.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, Eckersley, Walker (King 72), Buaben (Robinson 88), Pallardo, Gomis, Nicholson, Keatings (Oliver 90). Subs not used: Gallacher, Holt, McKay, McGhee
Hibs: Oxley, Gray (Booth 46), Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, Allan, Robertson, Handling (McGeouch 66), Craig, Cummings (Boyle 83), Malonga. Subs not used: Perntreau, Stanton, Heffernan, Kennedy.
Referee: S McLean. Attendance: 17,279.
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