HIBS were left raging after being denied what could well have been a winning goal as referee Euan Norris and his assistant Raymond Whyte incredibly failed to spot Leigh Griffiths’ stunning free-kick had crossed the line.
It appeared clear to the majority within Easter Road the ball was at least a yard over, a view supported by television evidence.
The blunder resulted in the third SPL derby of the season ending in stalemate as had the previous two. It means Hearts’ bid for a top six finish is all but over while making it all the more difficult for Hibs to make the top half of the table.
Kevin Thomson took a seat on the bench on his return to Easter Road, the former Hibs skipper ready to play for nothing for his old club until the end of the season, as Pat Fenlon stuck by the starting X1 which steered the Capital side into the semi-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup with that victory over Kilmarnock.
Interim Hearts boss Gary Locke was forced into one change, Callum Tapping replacing the suspended Darren Barr.
Hearts enjoyed by far the better of the exchanges in the opening quarter of the match with the 6ft 5in frame of Michael Ngoo proving a real thorn for Hibs as he gave the home defence a torrid time with his height, strength and power.
It was from his head flick the Gorgie outfit gained their first opening, John Sutton gathering the ball only to see his low angled shot held by Ben Williams in the home goal.
Then Ngoo rolled James McPake and held off Alan Maybury to deliver a low cross which Williams again took with some ease before the on-loan Liverpool striker latched onto Sutton’s knock-down from Arvydas Novikovas’ cross to fire in a low shot which collected a deflection which carried the ball inches wide of Williams’ left hand post with the goalkeeper struggling to get there.
And there was a let-off for Hibs when Danny Wilson nodded on Arvydas Novikovas’ corner. Sutton in turn with his head but the ball struck Ngoo, allowing Lewis Stevenson, standing on the post, to boot clear.
Hibs had rarely been seen as an attacking force until Ryan McGivern’s knock-down from Jorge Claros’ free-kick gave top scorer Leigh Griffiths a brief glimpse of goal but his shot didn’t carry sufficient power to trouble Jamie MacDonald.
The Hearts goalkeeper, though, would have been relieved when Scott Robertson got in front of Kevin McHattie to get his toe to the ball, again sending it straight at the Hearts No 1.
Easter Road found itself engulfed in a hail storm as half-time approached, prompting referee Euan Norris to call for a yellow ball, Ryan Stevenson almost making full use of it’s introduction as he burrowed towards Hibs six yard box only to be halted by a superbly timed tackle from Maybury.
Hearts had been unable to turn their dominance into goals but they almost made the breakthrough as the game headed into two minutes of added time at the end of the first half, Wilson stealing in at the back post to meet Novikovas’ free-kick only to head wide.
For all the effort from both sets of players there was a distinct lack of finesse, a typical derby match although Fenlon would have been unhappy at the number of unforced errors which crept into his side’s play at the beginning of the second half, resulting in possession being too easily surrendered.
Hearts skipper Andy Webster went close for the visitors on the hour mark, collecting a clearance on the edge of Hibs penalty area before firing in a shot which Williams beat away going to his right.
Play remained fragmented but Hearts continued to carry more threat than their Capital rivals, Ngoo latching onto Webster’s header down from Brad Mackay’s free-kick only to see his shot blocked by a sea of green and white shirts.
A poor header from Wilson presented Griffiths with a fleeting opportunity, one the Hibs top scorer was unable to take as he blasted the ball high over the bar.
Griffiths thought he had claimed the winner as he fired in a fantastic free-kick from fully 35 yards out, the ball coming off MacDonald’s crossbar and landing well inside the net only for Norris and Whyte to leave everyone in green and white stunned as they refused to give the goal.
Hibs: Williams, McGivern, McPake, Maybury, Claros, Wotherspoon, Stevenson, Done, Taiwo, Robertson, Griffiths
Subs: Murdoch, Forster, Deegan, Harris, Thomson, Doyle, Handling
Hearts: MacDonald, Wilson, Webster, McHattie, Mullen, Stevenson, Taouil, Tapping, Sutton, Novikovas, Ngoo
Subs: Ridgers, Walker, McKay, Holt, Prychynenko, Smith, Carrick
Ref: Euan Norris