Craig Levein couldn’t stop cracking jokes. He made a joke about the winning goal and its similarities to the one Hibernian didn’t get in the previous derby, saying he’d almost hoped Hearts had got away with a strike which hadn’t actually crossed the line. “That would have been brilliant!” he sniggered.
Then when asked about his celebratory jig at the final whistle during which he hugged teenage sensation Harry Cochrane, he remarked: “Well, he’s a very good-looking boy.”
But was he joking when he said the Scottish Cup victory had restored the “natural order” between the clubs, a statement which incensed Neil Lennon, below, who called it a “crock of cr*p”?
You’ve got to assume he was. Far bigger derbies than the one in Edinburgh don’t have managers flaunting a superiority complex. Have you ever heard a Celtic or Rangers boss talk about natural order?
No club can stay top dogs for ever. Yours can be in the ascendancy but then the director of football can make a poor appointment and his protege can fail – dismally. It happens. And to make matters worse, your club can be beaten by the bitter rivals when the latter are one division below.
Two seasons running in the cup this was Hearts’ fate while Levein sat stewing in the posh seats. These exits more or less did for Ian Cathro and Robbie Neilson before him. If Levein, back picking the team, had got it wrong on Sunday then he would have been subjected to the same almighty Gorgie grumbles.
So there was relief in his remarks. And pride. “I love this football club,” he said after the match. And bullishness. As a player, he didn’t shy away from confrontation, even with those in his own team. As manager of Dundee United he impressed everyone outside of Celtic and Rangers by refusing to be cowed by the Old Firm. And doubtless there was a bit of provocation in what he said as well.
In the banter that flies across Edinburgh from west to north, Hearts are the capital’s parade-ground sharp football ambassadors while Hibs are the scruffs from Leith with mucky faces and holes in their knees.
“Come on the Edinburgh team,” used to be a popular Tynecastle cry. “The heart and soul of Edinburgh!” currently booms across the public-address before kick-off.
That’s all this is: banter. It keeps the fans amused and irate when the only prize on offer, outwith the occasional cup success, might be finishing fourth (or first if the teams are in Championship). But Hibs supporters have nothing to feel inferior about, not if they’re able to remember when, right through the 1970s, Eddie Turnbull’s team lost just two derbies and now and again won them most handsomely, with the manager never once boasting about natural order. These supporters might have wished that the current team could have gone on to equal or better Hearts’ fantastic derby run of 22 games unbeaten. On Sunday, though, it wasn’t to be, and didn’t deserve to be.
Hibs’ winter training camp in Portugal couldn’t be called an outstanding success. Not when your captain picks up a bad injury and your best-paid player breaks a curfew along with two others. So where are the Hibees right now? A cold, hard assessment of Sunday won’t be favourable to Lennon’s signings. While Ofir Marciano was solid and produced one exceptional save, the contest overwhelmed Vykintas Slivka, Efe Ambrose dithered, the relegated-to-the-bench Simon Murray couldn’t affect things when he appeared, Danny Swanson didn’t show at all and Anthony Stokes was in disgrace.
The manager will hope for a much-improved performance on the return to league business tomorrow. Away from the suffocating derby atmosphere, he should let Brandon Barker run free again. Then, at the season’s end, he will probably have to let the on-loan Manchester City winger go, as Levein might have to say goodbye to his loanees Steven Naismith and Demetri Mitchell. These two, and Sunday’s win, may have saved Hearts’ campaign. They will have certainly soothed the fevered brows of the entitled section of the Jambos’ support, the Slateford supremacists who’ve nipped Levein’s ear these past few years, not liking Hibs’ derby dominance one bit.
So can this awkward, thrawn, canny manager win Hearts the Scottish Cup? You never know. As St Johnstone, Inverness Caley Thistle and that bunch of reprobate docksiders have proved recently, there really isn’t a natural order.