Hibs remain the undoubted derby kings
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After the full-time whistle went, a couple of the defeated Hearts players, most notably captain Christophe Berra, went to applaud the away support. While there was a smattering of applause in return, a sizable number vented their fury after another poor derby defeat. While there might have been a bit more heart from the visiting players compared with the insipid 3-1 Scottish Cup defeat earlier this year, they were still far from good enough. It’s been a long time since Hearts have been good enough to win a derby, and the fans are sick of it.
Hibs went into the game two points behind their rivals in the league table but they were lightyears ahead on the night. In the very first minute John McGinn caught Connor Randall dallying in possession and launched himself after the loose ball. Right from the off it showed the hosts were hungrier, stronger, better. That carried itself throughout the night.
As Neil Lennon put it after the game, the scoreline flattered the away side. Only some strong last-ditch defending stopped Hibs from thumping them.
This was exactly the right match for Simon Murray
The injury to Anthony Stokes may have necessitated Simon Murray’s first start in four games, but the 25-year-old should have played even if his older team-mate was passed fit.
It may be a bit of a cliche, but derby matches, especially Edinburgh derby matches, are all about running hard and having plenty of endeavour. Murray may go through scoring droughts, having failed to find the back of the net in seven games, but his industry was far more important. His energy at the point of the attack is infectious and the rest of the team feeds off it.
Fortunately for Lennon he provided both hard work and a scoring touch. You’d never have known he’d suffered any trouble in front of goal when he skinned John Souttar and lashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Jamie Brandon will be having nightmares about Martin Boyle
The Hibs support made fun of Hearts “hoof” ball in the opening minutes, but their team weren’t afraid to go long themselves on occasion. The difference was that they had a bit more purpose, looking to get diagonals behind the full-backs.
Both Martin Boyle and Brandon Barker had great games. Even though the final ball was sometimes lacking, their ability to drive the ball forward from defence into attack continually kept the visitors on the back foot.
Hearts left-back, young Jamie Brandon, had a torrid time against Boyle. The flying wide-man attacked his marker mercilessly in the opening half and you could visibly see confidence draining out of the teenager. It was little surprise when he was hooked 12 minutes into the second period as Hearts began to chase an equaliser.
Hearts have more battle but lack quality
There was undoubtedly a bit more fight about the visitors, but there’s only so much that can bring you. Even in derby games, where battling qualities are supposed to matter tenfold, as we’re always told, you still need a bit of quality in the centre of the park and Hearts had none of that.
The centre-backs were good (aside from John Souttar at the opener) while Kyle Lafferty fought for everything that came his way and, arguably, had his most impressive performance with his play outside the area since coming to Tynecastle. The problem was that he got no service whatsoever to do what he was signed to do: score goals.
What summed up the visitors’ performance was the deployment of Ross Callachan in the No.10 role. With Jamie Walker stationed further back in the midfield, it was a curious move. The ex-Raith Rovers man has impressed since his transfer deadline day signing, but his contribution to the team is about his movement and energy off the ball. He’s not going to be the No.10 to thread through a pass or produce a piece of magic, and his limitations going forward were echoed by the rest of the midfield.
A returning Arnaud Djoum and Don Cowie will strengthen Hearts in the engine room, but with Rafal Grzelak and Connor Randall have such poor showings - not to mention Prince Buaben who dropped out of contention following a poor showing against St Johnstone - fans are already looking toward the January transfer window and the reinforcements they hope will arrive.
Bartley-McGeouch axis was key for Hibs
It was the perfect midfield partnership to win a derby. One brought the brute strength required to scrap and fight and deny the opposition whenever they threatened. The other, while still fighting himself, was able to put his foot on the ball and dictate play, ensuring the hosts were always in the ascendancy.
Though he would improve as the game went on, John McGinn was a little quieter on Tuesday night than he was in the previous two derby matches at Easter Road, as Hearts tried their best to stop him from dominating the match. It wouldn’t matter though. Dylan McGeouch provided the subtlety in the centre, constantly getting himself into possession to receive a pass and always finding a team-mate.
As for Marvin Bartley, well, his challenge on Esmael Goncalves with 20 minutes remaining, where he won the ball while simultaneously sending the Hearts striker flying with his strength, summed up his contribution.