“PERHAPS it’s a wee bit of luck that we haven’t had this season,” said Gary Locke. Hearts’ interim manager didn’t need to outline the gravity of the mistake which ensured his team left Easter Road with a point. On Mothering Sunday, this was indeed the mother of all errors.
Neither referee Euan Norris nor his assistant Raymond Whyte saw Leigh Griffiths’ 77th-minute free-kick cross the goal line. Most of the 15,007 inside Easter Road did, and television evidence later laid bare the embarrassment for the officials. It also raised the issue of goalline technology once more, with FIFA officials having only finished a visit to Edinburgh days ago.
The striker’s exquisite 35-yard attempt beat Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald and careered off the underside of the crossbar before landing almost two feet over the line. Whyte’s flag remained down as the ball bounced out of the goal and was cleared for a corner, much to Hibs’ disbelief.
Locke didn’t gloat afterwards and acknowledged his team had benefitted from a moment of luck. Hearts’ fortunes on and off the pitch this season mean they are in no position to take pleasure from others’ misery. Their supporters might allow themselves a wry snigger, such is the nature of fierce inner-city rivalry in football, but Locke attempted to focus on his players’ resilience.
“I’ve seen the free-kick and obviously it’s in, but the referee didn’t give it and that’s the most important thing. There’s no point in me worrying about it,” he said. “It was a great strike and it went over the line. It’s one we’ve got away with. Maybe the luck’s turning for us a wee bit now.
“It was a great strike and he’s capable of that. It did look as if it was a goal, but the ball went out and a corner was given. There’s nothing I can do about it, you’ve just got to get on with it. Perhaps it’s a wee bit of luck that we haven’t had this season.
“I didn’t think it was a great game. It was never going to be a classic when you see the pitch because there wasn’t much grass on it. The effort and commitment from the two teams was different class and I was really pleased with that, especially from our boys. In terms of quality and getting the ball down, there wasn’t a lot of it.
“I felt we had the better of the first half and might have scored one or two goals, especially from set-pieces. In the second half the game petered out and it was pretty scrappy. The main thing for me was to make sure we put in a battling performance. It was always going to be a battle and it turned out that way.”
In a match bereft of much genuine quality, it was Hearts who created the better scoring opportunities with Michael Ngoo a constant menace to the Hibs defence. The Englishman’s running power and physical strength made him an awkward opponent, although he was inadvertently in the way of John Sutton’s goalbound header on 18 minutes.
MacDonald saved from Scott Robertson before Hearts lost right-back Fraser Mullen to injury. He was replaced by 19-year-old Brad McKay, granted a baptism of fire with a senior debut in an Edinburgh derby. He fared well as an orthodox centre-back playing out of position.
The second half was mostly tedious apart from an impressive flick, twist and volley by Andy Webster on 61 minutes, which saw the Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams at full stretch to palm away. Hearts appealed strongly for a penalty ten minutes later as Callum Tapping fell when challenged by Alan Maybury, but Norris was correct deciding there was no infringement. “When Tappy went through and went down, then at the time you’re screaming for a penalty,” admitted Locke. “If the ref doesn’t give it, you accept it and get on with it.”
Then came the major talking point of the afternoon. Webster fouled Robertson and Griffiths arced his free-kick over MacDonald and over the line via the underside of the bar. Despite intense protests from home fans and players, the goal was not given.
“It was a good strike but the score says 0-0. Goalkeepers don’t want goalline technology, unless I save it and a goal is given,” smiled Jamie MacDonald. “It happens and it’s part and parcel of football. It’s maybe the little bit of luck we’ve deserved. There have been a lot of instances this season where luck’s gone against us so we’ll take it. At the other end I thought we should have had a penalty for a foul on Callum Tapping.”
Hearts departed with a welcome point having halted a run of five successive defeats by beating St Johnstone 2-0 on Tuesday night. Now they prepare for the Scottish Communities League Cup final against St Mirren.
“We’ve got a victory and a draw now, so hopefully we’re building a wee bit of momentum to take into next week,” said Locke, who could find himself shunted aside for a new manager before the Hampden showpiece. “If they bring somebody new in, then great, If not, we’ll just prepare the players for the next game. It’s a big week coming up with a cup final to look forward to. We will now focus on that.”
Peter Houston is the clear favourite to be appointed, having held talks with Hearts officials last week. “If anything happens, I’m sure the club will let us know,” continued Locke. “I know Housty well, he was youth coach at Hearts when I was a player here. We go back a long way. Until we get told anything differently, we’ll just carry on.”
MacDonald explained why confidence within the Hearts dressing room remains high ahead of the biggest game of their season this weekend. “That’s now four points from six. That’s the way we’re looking at it because we went on a bad run of five defeats in a row. In that regards, it’s probably a good point against Hibs. We keep a little bit of momentum and that’s two clean sheets in a row going into the cup final. Instead of going into that on the back of a defeat, we going into it on the back of four points.”