THAT football can still surprise you with moments of sheer magic is one of the main reasons why the beautiful game still prospers.
Deep in injury time, down to ten men, their captain off injured and looking a beaten side, Hearts had been reduced to huffery-puffery in search of an equaliser after Hibs had deservedly taken a one-goal lead late in the first half through Dominique Malonga.
Galloping into the last chance saloon, Alim Ozturk gathered the ball fully 40 yards from goal, took a couple of paces forward and let fly at the Hearts end – it didn’t really look as if he was aiming specifically at the goal.
Yet he was. The ball took off like a rocket and seemed to be heading upwards of the target when it swerved and dipped over the upstretched arm of Hibernian goalkeeper Mark Oxley, crashing off the underside of the bar and over the line for a magnificent if unlikely point earner.
Ozturk has now earned instant legend status, as is accorded to players who make such a mark on an Edinburgh derby.
How the Hearts fans celebrated the retention of their unbeaten record at the top of the Championship. How the Hibs players stared in disbelief at what they had just seen, all their determined commitment, all their stern effort rendered to mere equality by a moment of stunning brilliance that took the breath away – the only such instance in the match.
Make no mistake, the better side drew this towsy wind-affected match. Hearts had too many players off the pace while Hibs showed greater desire to win throughout. That the home side only earned one point will seem an injustice to their fans and to neutrals alike, but the Hearts fans will not give a jot for such feelings as they remain 14 points clear of their capital rivals, and still seven points ahead of Rangers, albeit the Ibrox side have a game in hand.
Playing in a swirling, biting wind – at one point all four corner flags were outstretched in different directions – Hibs started the game with impressive pace, though the Hearts’ defence was comfortable in dealing with their early thrusts, goalkeeper Neil Alexander showing all his experience in dealing with crosses and passbacks alike. For their part, the Hibs defenders did not seem too rattled when Hearts got forward.
The midfield battle was crucial, and Prince Buaben and Morgaro Gomis were once again the pivots of Hearts’ play, albeit forced to play much deeper than usual, while neither Sam Nicholson nor Billy King were fully on form, a remark that could also be applied to Osman Sow up front.
By contrast, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan were both controlling and incisive for Hibs, aided and abetted by Danny Handling and Scott Robertson, while Malonga and Jason Cummings were tireless runners in attack for the home side.
David Gray and Lewis Stevenson also gave their all in ploughing up and down both wings, and it was the former’s cross after 20 minutes which led to Hibs’ first real chance, Allan heading the ball back and Malonga firing in a shot which Alexander batted away.
Another Gray punt less than five minutes later saw Danny Wilson completely mess up his clearance under pressure from Cummings and Malonga pounced, knocking the ball beyond the outrushing Alexander, but just too hard for Cummings to catch before the ball trundled by the post.
Allan’s shot from distance on the half-hour mark whistled just over Alexander’s bar before Hearts won their first corner fully 33 minutes into the game – it came to nothing, like all their efforts to that point.
As so often happens, the underperforming team in the derby then nearly took the lead. Callum Paterson’s long ball swirled behind Paul Hanlon and the hitherto anonymous Soufian El Hassnaoui got clear on goal. Oxley came out to narrow the target in textbook fashion and the Dutch-Moroccan striker fired in an early shot which the goalkeeper did well to parry away.
At the other end, a poor Cummings effort that went well wide prompted the thought that Hibs needed to show a bit more composure in front of goal. They duly did so and took the lead, albeit after a stramash, which in turn had been prompted by a piece of bad luck for Hearts.
In the 44th minute, a Cummings free kick some 30 yards from goal was deflected high by the defensive wall, and though the ball could have gone anywhere it came down right on top of Alexander’s bar and the Hearts goalkeeper played safety first and tipped the ball behind for a corner. Allan directed it to the back post where Liam Fontaine headed the ball down into a packed box, Cummings having a shot before the ball came out to Malonga. He had no hesitation in blasting the ball high into the net and Hibs were deservedly in front.
Early in the second half, Buaben was booked for a poor tackle on Allan just on the edge of the penalty box, and Hearts’ frustration continued to grow when captain Wilson, who had been struggling with a hamstring injury, went off just after El Hassnaoui, the two being replaced by Jordan McGhee and Jamie Walker respectively. The latter almost made an instant impact, his low cross producing a fine diving save from Oxley.
As the play became more ragged, with gaps opening up as players tired, Buaben almost gained the equaliser on the hour mark, his clever chip beating Oxley but also going wide of the far post.
Hearts definitely had more possession at this stage, and Nicholson shot just over before Eckersley fired a shot well wide, which in turn led to Oxley being shown the yellow card for time wasting as he prolonged the process of taking a goal kick just once too often.
With 12 minutes left, Paterson had a rush of blood to the head and saw a straight red card for a lunge on Malonga. That appeared to be that for Hearts, we thought.
This is football, however, and unpredictability is its watchword. Up stepped Ozturk, and wrote his name into the book of derby day heroes for Hearts.
Hibernian: Oxley, Gray, Fontaine, Hanlon, Stevenson, McGeouch, Allan (Harris 74), Robertson, Handling (Stanton 74), Malonga, Cummings (Kennedy 84). Subs not used: Craig, Booth, Heffernan, Perntreou.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson (McGhee 58), Eckersley, Nicholson, Buaben, Gomis, King (Buchanan 87) Sow, El Hassnaoui (Walker 55). Subs not used: McHattie, Holt, Hamilton, Pallardo.