ALAN Stubbs insists he does not require proof of the character possessed by his side. But make no mistake, this would have been a test of anyone’s mettle, never mind a team from a lower division burdened by the hopes of an expectant following.
Everyone knows Hibs’ difficult relationship with the Scottish Cup. Two goals down at the home of their fiercest rivals, who also happen to be one of the meanest outfits in the Scottish game, few could foresee Hibs clawing their way back into the proceedings.
In a season when they have other priorities, it would be almost understandable if Hibs let an extra commitment drift away from them. However, Stubbs’ side were determined not to surrender one of three honours they can potentially win this season without a fight.
Their treble dream, however much mentioned in jest, remains alive after goals by Jason Cummings and Paul Hanlon, the latter coming in injury time, cancelled out first- half strikes by Arnaud Djoum and Sam Nicholson. We repair to Easter Road next Tuesday.
As Graham Weir, who once scored twice in injury time to rescue Hearts in an Edinburgh derby, could explain, a two-goal lead has the potential to be perilous, particularly when the opposition are pressing on with fierce intent.
A season that seemed set to be devoid of even one Edinburgh derby is now blessed with two. It is good news for those partial to football in which purpose rather than poise is king. This was another engrossing Edinburgh derby in which the decisive moment was stored in its tail.
This was another engrossing Edinburgh derby in which the decisive moment was stored in its tail
With reference to the aforementioned Weir game in 2003, Hibs required slightly longer than just a few minutes of time added on to score the two goals that secured a draw they celebrated like a win, with Sunshine on Leith blasting out from an iPod docking station in the away dressing room as media interviews were being conducted next door.
But their equaliser did come just seconds after fourth official Kevin Clancy informed fans there would be four minutes of time added on. Cummings had signalled the comeback 11 minutes earlier with a flicked header that summed up his excellent season. He sent a looping header over Neil Alexander following an equally precise chipped cross from Liam Henderson.
Hibs kept pressing and were rewarded for their persistence when Henderson’s corner caused alarm in the Hearts box, with Darren McGregor’s strong header brilliantly blocked by Alexander. But Hanlon pounced on the rebound and his shot, while lacking genuine power, was laced with danger because of the forest of bodies it had to travel through to reach goal.
In contrast to Cummings’ header, when the ball seemed to take an age to get to the net, suddenly Hanlon’s shot had evaded everyone, and the Hibs supporters, under whose noses such a dramatic goal was scored, erupted with delight.
It was quite a change to their demeanour at the interval, when they half-interestedly watched as a collection of Hearts and Hibs legends competed in a half-time penalty competition. Adding to the gloom of the away fans, Hearts won thanks to Colin Cameron.
Whether or not the Scottish Cup features high in their list of priorities, no team wishes to retreat at the interval two goals in arrears. “This is sh*te man!” roared Cummings as he trudged down the tunnel at half-time.
Whether it was a comment on his own performance, that of his team or the aesthetic qualities of the game up to that point, who can be sure? At that stage it could reasonably have been applied to all three. Hearts were two goals to the fore, a lead they accumulated through brute strength combined with no little skill.
Both Hearts goals were exquisite items, jewels in the dirt. Djoum scored the first after 32 minutes when latching on to a clearance by Lewis Stevenson. Djoum, lingering 18 yards out, swung a foot at the ball and from the moment contact was made there seemed little doubt where the viciously swerving shot would end up. The ball buried itself in Mark Oxley’s net via a post.
Moments before half-time, Hearts stretched their lead with a goal which Nicholson took great delight in celebrating in front of the away fans at the cost of a booking. But he would surely contend it was worth it after skilfully bringing down Callum Paterson’s cross and thrashing a shot past Oxley.
It summed things up that four players, two from each side, were forced off with injury by the hour mark, meaning both managers could make only limited tactical alterations.
Stubbs was more inclined to want to change things. It was possible to wonder whether he might regret bringing on Kevin Thomson for Dylan McGeouch when the midfielder suffered a groin injury in the first half.
Within moments of Thomson entering the fray Hibs were two goals down. With Marvin Bartley already occupying the role of holding midfielder, some wondered whether Thomson was somewhat expedient, with the visitors now required to chase the game.
But Thomson helped anchor the midfield as Hibs set about eating away at Hearts’ lead, and though they left it late to score the equaliser, there was still time left to almost lose the game again, when substitute Niklas Gunnarsson sliced a clearance onto his own bar. “Typical Hibees,” smiled Thomson later.
Referee: C Thomson