The perfect storm: 5 reasons for Hearts’ dire derby defeat

A Hearts scarf lies on the pitch as the club are knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Hibs. Picture: SNS
A Hearts scarf lies on the pitch as the club are knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Hibs. Picture: SNS
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It’s more than 36 hours after the mess that was Heart of Midlothian’s meek Scottish Cup exit to the hands of rivals Hibernian. For the second successive season.

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As the Easter Road men took the acclaim from a thriving home support, the away fans (at least the ones who stomached the full-time whistle) couldn’t exit the ground quick enough, only stopping to berate their players after another insipid away performance. Another insipid derby performance.

Ian Cathro got one thing correct on Wednesday evening when he said they have a lot of making up to do. This is a wound that will take a long time to heal. A long time.

What lies in store for both Hibs and Hearts is an article for another time. This one will focus on the conditions which created the perfect storm. One which blew Hibs onwards and upwards as ANOTHER trip to Hampden beckons. As for Hearts, it leaves them shipwrecked, a cast of strays left clinging to the wreckage.

Hibs - Simple and effective. The archetypal derby performance

Hearts didn’t so much shoot themselves in the foot as drop a grenade and fail to take cover. Everything that went wrong was simply compounded by a professional and at times a ferocious, as Neil Lennon put it, Hibs performance.

Tribalism means no-one of a maroon persuasion would congratulate Hibs on their victory. After all, that’s what rivalries are rightly about. However, many Hearts fans will have been laying their head on their pillow on Wednesday night or staring vacuously into their pint glass thinking ‘that’s how I want Hearts to approach the derby’.

FOUR-FOUR-F*****G-TWO. Two front men, two wide men and two aggressive and direct central midfielders. Hibs were the home team and they made sure to impose their game on their opponents. Individual battles were won all over the park.

Liam Fontaine and Darren McGregor were like Hunry Hippos when the ball came into the vicinity of Esmael Goncalves. David Gray and Lewis Stevenson, as well as Marvin Bartley, played supporting roles. They could have all had the night off. Arguably, they did.

An early change didn’t effect their game plan. Lennon simply trusted Andrew Shinnie to do the job of a winger and he flourished. Martin Boyle on the other side put the frighteners up Lennard Sowah all game. Even when the German got to grips with Boyle’s pace the wide man’s presence was enough to unnerve Hearts’ left-flank.

John McGinn lived up to his ‘Super’ moniker. He patrolled and controlled the midfield with Bartley; two against what was effectively a five man Hearts central midfield. They harassed and pressed, passed and probed.

Yet, it was the front men who were the match winners. Jason Cummings scored AGAIN against Hearts. It is expected. But what perhaps was more pleasing for Lennon and Hibs fans was his role for the second, starting wide, drifting in and playing a delicate ball for Grant Holt to score.

Holt himself led the line and the team. He has had his detractors but has thrived in the games against Hearts. He bullied his opponents, charged around, throwing his weight about as if to say ‘I’m the boss’. His performance and attitude was akin to Kevin Kyle for Hearts a few years back. A focal point, a leader. He embodied what the Edinburgh derby is.

Game plans, tactics and structure. Was there any?

Even before the game started the big question among Hearts fans was ‘Malaury Martin!?’ The Frenchman has struggled to adapt to the nature of the Scottish game so far. He was hauled off after 45 minutes in the original tie at Tynecastle because he was a liability.

However, the rest of the selection was about par. The only concern was that the five man midfield looked incredibly narrow. And so it proved.

The term too many chiefs, too few Indians springs to mind. Although in Wednesday’s case it was too many players who think they are better than they are, too few realists. Perry Kitchen, Arnaud Djoum, Jamie Walker, Alexandros Tziolis and Martin were tripping over each other in the centre of the park. Four of the players want to be heavily involved in the build-up. It was 45 minutes of dysfunctional mayhem.

With Walker and Djoum coming in off the wings Hearts should have been able to dominate midfield and suffocate the Hibs midfield pairing, shutting off passing lanes to the wide men. Due to the disorganisation and players’ inability to understand and value space there was no structure to the pressing, if any even existed in the first place. Hibs were able to shift the ball wide where overloads down the flanks developed with little protection of the Hearts full-backs.

When Hearts did have the ball the team was so compact that there was a series of passes less than five yards. This made it easy for McGinn and Bartley to press and hunt in packs. With the ball pinballing around the Hearts midfielders’ feet they could nip in and launch attacks.

Goncalves, the lone striker ahead of a five man midfield, often offered the most width as he tried to find space himself to get the ball. The build up was slow and ponderous with Hearts taking three or four passes when one would suffice.

A key feature of the first half was Hearts players in lively discussion trying to sort out the omnishambles that was unfolding.

Sam Nicholson and Currie were positive additions, especially the latter. The least experienced player in the Hearts squad offered the most professional of performances.

Attitude

Claims that the Gorgie side’s foreign players didn’t know what the Edinburgh derby meant is a misconception. A lot of these players are not only internationalists but have played in bigger games than the Edinburgh derby.

What they failed to comprehend was what it takes to win a Edinburgh derby. And it is not just the newcomers, in the last 30 months Hearts have appeared to treat the derby with indifference, a worrying mindset which has carried over to the new batch of players.

What was most disconcerting was that the players failed to learn from the first game. They perhaps thought it was simply the pitch and all they had to do was play a bit of football on a better surface and the team in the higher division would prevail - just look at Goncalves’ foolish comments.

‘Football’ would be a poor answer on Family Fortunes if posed the question ‘What do you expect to see at an Edinburgh derby?’ For the main part, it is about running, working hard and battling. These may be views you’d expect to hear from a Proper Football Man (PFM) but it is true when it comes to games between these two teams. There is a reason credence is given to running and sprinting stats by the likes of Jamie Carracher and Gary Neville on Monday Night Football.

The players in maroon expected the game to be played their way and win. When the challenge came they wilted like a flower in the Arizona desert. In this fixture you need to give yourself the chance to play football, usually some point around the 60th minute mark. They never gave themselves the chance.

Both the Hibs players and crowd scented the apathy emanating from the away players. The best preparation that Hearts could have undertaken in the build-up was to play 11-a-side on a 5-a-side pitch. It would replicate how asphyxiating the fixture is. For many in the Hearts team they wanted the opposite.

It can all be summed up by two contrasting moments. From kickoff in the first half, Hearts played back to the defence, Hibs pressured and Tasos Avlonitis booted it out for a throw-in. Hibs had possession in the Hearts half. Second half kickoff: Hibs launched it deep into the Hearts half, got the defence turning and won a free-kick in a dangerous area. Those are the small things that win derbies.

Individual performances

For his own sake Jack Hamilton needs dropped. That was the case before the game and is still the case now. It posed another question for fans of the Gorgie side: ‘just how bad is Viktor Noring?’

Hamilton is a promising talent. That there is no doubt. But he is currently going through a crisis of confidence, notably when the ball is played to his feet. His kicking makes the fans nervous as well as the players. At one point Avlonitis opted for booting the ball into the stand rather than playing it back to Hamilton. Hibs fans jumped on this frailty.

Even the stronger elements of his game faltered; flapping in the third and staying far too deep for the first rather than narrowing the angle.

Tynecastle is not going to be a positive environment for the remainder of the season. Some time out the firing line should aid his long-term development.

So often Mr Reliable, with six or seven out of 10 performances, in recent months Perry Kitchen has regressed to fours and fives. Four would have been generous for his derby performance.

He played Holt onside for the second goal, while the qualities you expect from him - work rate, tenacity, simplicity - were all miss in a sorry 45 minutes. It only highlighted his less than proficient technical qualities.

Alexandros Tziolis and Arnaud Djoum may have delivered the worst performances of their respective and reputable careers. Tziolis’ nonchalance which so endeared him to fans was hindrance as he clogged rather than strolled around the pitch. Djoum, who spoke of moving to a “better club”, had no influence. None whatsoever. As for Malaury Martin . . .

Blame game

The performance has to be laid at the feet of the players and management team. As above the tactics and team selection were all wrong. It was calling out for a change before half-time.

Ian Cathro spoke positively about the derby in the build-up but his words and actions had little effect. A chastening experience for the coach, one which will take him a long time to recover.

Despite the sanctuary of Milton Keynes, Robbie Neilson did not escape flak for the ‘feeling’ he has left around the club in regards to derbies.

Then there is Craig Levein. He left the game fizzing on Wednesday night. Indirectly he contributed to the mess. As director of football, his position, in tandem with the head coach, is to have a prepared and balanced squad for the start of the season.

That did not transpire this summer which led to the Europa League debacle, which led to inconsistency, which led to fan frustration, which led to a squad overhaul in the winter transfer window, which led to Wednesday night.

The goalkeeping issue was a microcosm of the disorganisation. A contract was offered to Neil Alexander. It was then taken away. Don’t worry, Matt Gilks will be coming in. Matt Gilks goes to Rangers. ‘Well, Jack Hamilton was always going to be our number one.’ Farcical.

The approach to recruitment is well intentioned at Tynecastle. Give players a platform to perform and sell them on. The only problem is players are being given a platform and not performing to the necessary requirements.

Since the start of the 2014/2015 season Hearts have used 75 players in 120 games. One of the aspects of Levein’s role is surely to stop such a churn of players. Stability off the field, instability on it.

It is perhaps the reason that there appears to be no feeling, no connection between players and fans. And why the derby attitude has suffered. Through the new stand and the Foundation of Hearts there is a connection, a strong one, between fans and Heart of Midlothian Football Club. But in the dugout, in the boardroom and most importantly on the pitch there is very little.

For the second year in a row Hearts’ season has been ended before March before their rivals in a tier below.

While much work is to be undertaken for the new Main Stand. An equal amount of work is required to fix the problems on the field.

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