HEARTS never got that fourth guard of honour from Hibernian yesterday – and they couldn’t make it a quartet of derbies undefeated when Jason Cummings and Farid El Alagui secured victory for their Edinburgh rivals.
Hibernian - 2
Cummings 29, El Alagui 90+1
Heart of Midlothian - 0
Referee: K Clancy
The win enables Hibs to hold on to second place in the Championship, which is the important thing, but for their fans there is the instant gratification of victory after believing their team deserved more out of the previous encounters this season and it will be enjoyed back at offices and workplaces over the next few days.
Although Hearts, who’d been nondescript in the first half, improved after the break, this was a thoroughly deserved triumph for Alan Stubbs’ team. Just when it looked like the recent run of three defeats had caused them to lose their nerve at a crucial juncture, they produced a bold and bucaneering performance in which three attacking midfielders, Scott Allan, Dylan McGeouch and Fraser Fyvie, competed with each other for man-of-the-match.
The guard-of-honour rammy beforehand had been especially silly. After Hearts had been applauded on to the field for their three previous games in recognition of the title, Hibs elected not to follow suit in the interests of afternoon harmony. Alim Ozturk accused them of a lack of respect, as did the Jambo massive.
The Hibee faithful’s response was to point out that Hearts’ achievement had been finishing first in the second tier of a reduced Scottish fitbascape – they had not won a war – and how long was this daft procession expected to continue?
But the pop psychology at least was interesting with Tynecastle manager Robbie Neilson suggesting that Hibs had maybe missed a trick. Being required to applaud Hearts might have fired up the Hibees. Meanwhile, yet more garlands could have made the new champs complacent.
Well, there was nothing complacent about Adam Ecklersley in the opening minute when he clattered into the back of Allan and in the ensuing square-up seemed to lean in with his head. Some referees might have called that a butt.
Allan is a contender for Championship player of the year, as is Hearts’ Jamie Walker. The latter was anonymous in the opening passages but Allan contributed to the best move of the first quarter, Fyvie firing over. Shortly after that Callum Paterson shaved his own crossbar with a clearing header.
Hearts, in contrast, were taking it nice and easy. Perhaps those triple training sessions – and they’d continued after the title was confirmed – were having a negative effect. Cummings, in the 24th minute, was allowed room for a zinging left-foot shot which had Neil Alexander at full stretch. And five minutes later he scored.
An Allan corner was cleared by Paterson but Fyvie headed the ball back into the box. Farid El Alagui added a crucial dink and Cummings netted his 17th of the season. In truth it was a sclaffy finish, but the player was moved to celebrate extravagantly in front of the away fans, which earned him a ticking-off.
For the third successive derby Hibs were ahead and deservedly so. The trick? How to hold on to the lead and hopefully increase it. Allan’s corners were proving a problem for Hearts, with Liam Fontaine going close from one before the breakthrough then, shortly after it, shoogling the bar with a shot.
Allan had been inventive and Fyvie had played his part for Hibs but maybe the player of the first 45 had been the back-from-injury McGeouch whose drifting cleverness had been missed during Hibs’ recent wobbles.
He hadn’t put a foot wrong until giving away the ball on halfway, leading to a minor flurry of Hearts’ pressure. If they’d scored during this period it would have been a supreme example of the ruthlessness which Stubbs had admitted had been his rivals’ killer asset, but on this occasion it wasn’t to be.
Hearts began the second half in brighter fashion. In truth, they couldn’t have been any less dull. Maybe, like the training, Neilson’s fierce words had come in triplicate. Walker was more prominent, not least in the 54th minute when his fierce right-foot shot required the urgent attentions of Mark Oxley. Hibs, in contrast, weren’t quite as dynamic. Oxley’s fresh-air punch at the ball from a threatening Hearts attack prompted some palpitations. The goalkeeper gathered at the second attempt and banged it all the way to Cummings in the opposition box. Was this to be Hibs’ new tactic? A minute later they remembered their route to goal in the first half and from an Allan corner Jordon Forster set up El Alagui who really should have made it two.
Another injury casualty, in his case for much longer, Forster would make a vital contribution with a tremendous block as Genero Zeefuik threatened to conclude an almighty penalty-box scramble with the equaliser. Hibs then broke upfield and Dominique Malonga screwed his shot horribly wide when two men were better placed. This confirmed the Congolese striker’s status as the lolloping enigma of Easter Road but only for a few more minutes as the substitute himself had to be replaced.
Hearts’ best effort in the remaining minutes was an Osman Sow shot which Oxley was able to save with a firmer hand. This hadn’t been Hearts day but they’ve had plenty of them this season. Then in the first minute of injury time Malonga’s replacement Franck Dja DjeDje showed the former how to unselfishly lay off the ball to a team-mate with a clearer sight of goal and El Alagui did the rest.
Hibernian: Oxley; Forster, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson; Boyle, McGeouch, Fyvie, Allan; El Alagui, Cummings (Molonga, 67 (Djedje, 86)).
Hearts: Alexander; Ozturk, Wilson, McHattie (Nicholson, 37); Paterson, Pallardo, Gomez, Eckersley; Walker; Zeefuik (King, 76), Sow.