MAYBE those mind tricks are working. In the past Hibs may have lost belief long before they opened the scoring and they could have panicked when Hearts pulled things back. But, with the help of some positive thinking and a management team that demands steel, they finally cashed in on their domination in a derby meeting.
Scorers: Hibernian - Collins (61) Craig (83 pen); Hearts - Smith (72)
Having been made to knock, knock and knock again, they stuck to their task and James Collins eventually opened the scoring in the 61st minute, burying his close-range strike into the roof of the Hearts net.
Hearts came back at them in the 72nd minute, making things interesting when substitute David Smith beat Ben Williams with his second attempt. In the past that might have been enough to leave Hibs on their knees, the doubts about their ability to kill off their city rivals chirping away in their ears.
But last night, if those doubts even raised their heads, they were quickly silenced and they pressed for the winner.
Man of the match Liam Craig delivered it with eight minutes remaining. The rejuvenated Lewis Stevenson was halted by a rash and needless Jordan McGhee challenge in the box and, faced with a keeper who broke Hibs hearts the last time the clubs met, Craig held his nerve and sent Jamie MacDonald the wrong way to win a fast and sometimes furious encounter.
It was only after the first ten minutes that this one finally slowed down to something marginally faster than frantic. Hibs had set out with a very obvious gameplan to play to a high tempo and pin Hearts into their own area. Hearts could only react. They simply stuck out legs, flung bodies in the way and hoofed one ball after another clear of MacDonald’s goal. But the one thing they should have done is try to calm things down. Even when the ball went out of play, they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to upset the rhythm of their hosts’ play. They took fast throw-ins, quick free-kicks, but what they didn’t do was try to give the game the breathing space they desperately needed.
While Hibs went with an unchanged side, Hearts were again shuffling their limited pack, with captain Danny Wilson missing from the backline, 17-year-old McGhee was reinstated to the starting line-up.
That simply reinforced the idea that, as has been the case every time these city rivals have met this season, Hibs were the favourites. On paper recent results and form pointed to them winning but that had been the case ahead of the two previous meetings and matters had not been as predictable.
Hearts’ circumstances have turned this term into an almighty struggle and, lately, even their own manager had conceded that confidence was low, while the Hibs camp have been benefitting from a mind guru intent on helping them lay ghosts to rest and focus on a brighter future.
Getting a point at St Mirren at the weekend will have offered Hearts a timely injection of self-belief, but Hibs have enjoyed their own upturn in fortunes since Terry Butcher replaced Pat Fenlon. The brittleness of the Easter Road side under his predecessor seems to have been addressed, with players happy to take greater responsibility on the ball and in front of goal.
That wasn’t always an advantage in the opening stages of this one. There was no doubting they possessed the greater threat for long spells of this match but while in the past it looked as though no-one was willing to take the final shot for fear of retribution if they missed the target, last night they were all shooting on sight, when maybe a little more composure might have helped and another few metres would have aided their ultimate goal.
But, in front of a packed crowd, generating the kind of atmosphere that single derbies out as special, Hibs were almost too desperate to get the first goal and Hearts refused to be cowed.
The home side won a free-kick in the second minute when Brad McKay felled Jason Cummings but although the ball pinballed about the box, no-one could find the target.
As they came at Hearts again two minutes later, both McKay and Kevin McHattie threw themselves in front of a Scott Robertson shot. With one surge after another Hibs piled the pressure on their city rivals. They rattled shots at goal from the edge of the area and they rained balls in on top of the under siege Hearts defence.
Cummings was the next to try his luck, but he couldn’t control the return ball from Collins and Hearts again hoofed it clear.
Hibs were determined to get the ball into the Hearts box as frequently as possible, with Butcher’s demands for greater positivity and instructions to pepper more shots at goal obviously being heeded.
But, with every squandered chance, every threat nullified by Gary Locke’s side, the tension levels in the stands rose. They had been here before. In the League Cup that had dominated the opening half an hour and lost their impetus and the match to Ryan Stevenson bolt from the blue.
On the 12th minute last night, Callum Tapping served a reminder that such a scenario could be repeated. Callum Paterson swung the pass in from the left and Tapping’s effort looked destined to opening the scoring but Ben Williams pulled off a brilliant save. It was a nervy moment for Hibs fans who have been through the wringer too often on these derby occasions.
At the other end Robertson’s drilled shot from 20 yards rose high over the Hearts keeper’s bar before Jordon Forster was then denied by the crossbar.
Craig dinked a pass into Cummings soon after but this time MacDonald tipped his header away for yet another corner.
After the interval, possession was still dominated by the home side but they still couldn’t get everything their own way.
Lewis Stevenson and Collins worked a one-two but the midfielder sliced wide, while Hibs added the threat of Paul Heffernan to the forward line immediately after they had opened the scoring.
Hearts will be gutted to have lost but another concern will be the reputation of their winger Jamie Walker. The youngster was once again booked for diving and is earning himself a reputation he needs to shirk soon.
Hearts are going down, sang the home fans. That wasn’t quite what they meant.
Did what little was needed in the first half. In the second, fumbled Smith’s shot, allowing the substitute to follow up and score. 6/10
Again at right-back instead of his more familiar position of centre-half, he got up well to support the attack. One of Hibs’ best players on the night. 8
No-nonsense as ever in defence, again showing how important he has been to Hibs’ stronger displays. 6
Continues to look a much-improved player with Nelson alongside him, and defended with confidence on the ground and in the air alike. 7
Solid in defence, the left-back was let down by his poor distribution when he ventured further forward. Seemed to get the last touch at the Hearts goal, but the ball was netbound anyway. 6
Fired an effort off target midway through the first half as Hibs tried to turn their pressure into a goal. Always looked dangerous with the ball at his feet. 7
Worked well alongside captain Craig in the middle of the park, and had a diving header five minutes into the second half that was barely a foot wide. 7
Delivered some excellent dead balls, especially the one from which Forster headed against the bar. The dominant figure in midfield for parts of the game. 8
Had a quieter outing after his outstanding performance in Sunday’s 3-0 win against Kilmarnock, but played well nonetheless. Impeded for the penalty. 7
Showed good movement off the ball in search of involvement, but blasted wide after 32 minutes from an excellent position. 7
Header just before half-time from outside the box was on target but too weak to trouble MacDonald, but he made no mistake on the hour mark to give his team an overdue lead. 7
Came on for Cummings just after his team had taken the lead. Sent a header just wide. 8
Owain Tudur Jones
On for Robertson, had little time to influence the outcome. 8
Did well to keep Hibs at bay in the first half when they threatened to run riot, but continues to look vulnerable at times in crowded boxes. 7
Left standing on occasion by Lewis Stevenson, epitomised by when he carelessly gave away the late penalty. Showed good positional sense to mop up attacks in central positions. 7
Kept his composure well for most of the game but was involved in the penalty incident. Sent a header just wide not long after Hibs had opened the scoring. 6
Played his part in denying Hibs at close quarters. Poor clearances caused trouble on occasion, particularly in the lead-up to Collins’ goal. 7
Another solid display from a player who continues to grow in maturity. Used his strength well and refused to buckle as Hibs threatened to overrun the visitors’ defence. 7
Came close to opening the scoring from a Paterson cross in the 12th minute, but his weak first-time connection was kept out by Williams. Came off when Hearts were a goal down. 6
Outshone by Craig for much of the game, he was still able to play a crucial linking role in the run-up to the equaliser. Booked after half an hour for a needless challenge on Cummings when the Hibs striker was airborne. 7
The goalscorer against St Mirren was again in central midfield, and worked ceaselessly in an attempt to shut Hibs down. 7
Threatened the Hibs defence in the first half with several elusive runs, and also tackled well. Booked for simulation in the second half. 7
Captain for the night in place of ill Danny Wilson, the Hearts hero from the last derby played with his usual commitment. 7
Chased down everything up front, and did well at times out wide as well, notably when he laid on an early chance for Tapping. Also put in an important defensive contribution at set pieces. 7
On for Tapping shortly after Hibs scored the first goal, his fresh legs soon paid off as he burst through to equalise. 7
Referee: B Madden