Lennon won the tactical battle (twice)
As Hibs fans return to work tomorrow with a smile so broad that even the banging headache can’t do anything to shift, something about last night’s game will become a footnote in the water-cooler dissection, which is... Hibs’ original gameplan was severely impacted only 60 seconds in when Chris Humphrey hit the deck and had to be substituted.
The plan had been to get the flying winger running at the opposing full-back, with Martin Boyle doing the same job on the other flank. Hearts push their full-backs so far forward on attacks they almost play like wingers themselves. Hibs were looking to either exploit the space they left in behind, or nullify their attacking threat through sheer presence alone.
There wasn’t a like-for-like swap available, so Andrew Shinnie came on instead. Crucially, Lennon switched the wide men over. So Martin Boyle went against Lennard Sowah, a player picked up on a free from Hamilton who’s played exactly 19 top flight league games in his career, instead of Andraz Struna, an experienced Slovenian international of 25 caps. It worked a treat. Boyle roasted Sowah time and again, which had the added bonus of completely negating him as an attacking threat for most of the contest.
The same goes for Struna, even though he was given more license to go forward with Shinnie on his side, who was negated by his own team’s inadequacies. As they’ve been so many times in derby games over the last couple of seasons, Hearts were passive and uninspiring in possession, and it played right into Hibs’ hands.
In order to take advantage of any tactical wrinkle - like, for example, Hearts having five central midfielders to Hibs’ three - you have to play with pace and purpose, otherwise it’s easy enough to cover for the defending team.
Hearts’ wide men, Jamie Walker and Arnaud Djoum, both like to drift inside when stationed on the wings. So, essentially, Hearts had five men in the centre, including No.10 Malaury Martin, going against three Hibs players if you include Shinnie drifting in also. It didn’t matter. While Hearts moved it at a snail’s pace, Hibs were flying around everywhere.
Each and every one of the goals came from Hearts giving away possession thanks to a combination of Hibs pressing and the visitors’ inability to penetrate. The hosts could allow Hearts to pass the ball between the centre-backs and defensive midfielder Alexandros Tziolis, knowing there was never going to be a run in behind, let alone someone looking to thread the ball through. Once possession was lost, Hibs would break with pace and purpose.
And though Shinnie may not have been able to carry out the duties of a Humphrey, his selection brought added impetus in the centre, as he played a pivotal role coming in from the left side.
Hearts have rightly been slated for their performance, but Lennon got his tactics spot on. Had Humphrey stayed on, we may never know exactly what would have happened in terms of the exact score, but one thing is for sure: Hibs would still have won.
Hearts do not have a squad suited for Edinburgh derbies
Malaury Martin’s display summed up everything wrong with the away side. The Frenchman seemed to want an eternity on the ball and would ultimately do nothing before a Hibs player would come and take it off him. He’d already been given a rude awakening in the first meeting between the sides at Tynecastle, where he was also substituted at half-time. Why he thought it would be any different at Easter Road is anyone’s guess.
The inability to learn from past mistakes could easily be applied to his club. This is far from the first derby where Hearts have lost the battle to Hibs. In fact, you could say they haven’t won the battle since the summer of 2014. The tactics of the Robbie Neilson and Ian Cathro era, mainly patient passing football, don’t seem to lend themselves too well to the Edinburgh derby.
Add this to the fact there were a number of players in the squad who’re still adapting to Scottish football, have little idea about the history of the derby, and are only signed on short-term deals until the end of the season, and you have a perfect storm for what was witnessed on the Easter Road turf.
McGinn and Cummings define “big game players”
Lennon set down a challenge for his two talismanic stars following the disappointing showing at Raith Rovers on Saturday, and boy did they answer the call.
John McGinn was instrumental in everything good about Hibs in the centre of the park. He continually pressed and harried out of possession, while his terrific range of passing was key to springing attacks for his side.
Cummings, meanwhile, played like the talent everyone knows he can be, but one which isn’t seen often enough. The striker has been dropped at times this season, which seems unfathomable when you witness such a performance as the one he put in last night. Derbies really seem to bring out the best in him and his record, five goals in his last six games against Hearts, is starting to create a feeling of expectation not felt in these games since a certain John Robertson used to pull on a maroon jersey.
That’s the problem with being described as a “big game player” at this level. It insinuates that you’re not much of one in run-of-the-mill outings. That’s what got Lennon so agitated, and it’s now up to the players to use this momentum and fire Hibs to the Ladbrokes Championship title.
The roles have well and truly reversed in Edinburgh
It’s a strange thing to say as Hearts are in a league above their rivals, but that’s the point. In the early to mid-90s, Hearts would often struggle at the wrong end of the table and still find a way to beat their rivals. Now Hibs are the underdogs - though the bookies eventually caught on and made them favourites for this one - who rise to the occasion in derby matches through sheer willpower as much as anything else.
The 3-1 victory means Hibs have now gone seven games against their rivals without defeat. It’s the longest run they’ve had since the 1970s. They’ve also beaten them three times in the Scottish Cup and remain unbeaten in five since the 2012 final.
Hearts were made to eat their words
Esmael Goncalves was quoted as saying Hibs were “not a good football team” on the day of the game, basically suggesting the mob from Leith were hammer-throwers and Hearts were going to cut through them like a hot knife through butter. Unfortunately for the travelling support, neither Goncalves nor his team-mates backed up those words on the pitch.
There seems to be a myth in football of what ‘direct’ means. Hibs were still direct in the second match between the two teams. However, say “direct” and people tend to think of Wimbledon in the 1980s; long, aimless punts up the field which act as a passing distraction to the literal fight in the centre. You can be direct, utilise a big man up front as an out-ball, and still play decent football. It’s what Hearts used to do under Craig Levein and it’s what Hibs did at Easter Road.
And as for who plays “good” or “attractive” football, answer this: if you could only watch a team play one style for the rest of the season, from this particular game, would you rather they played like Hearts or Hibs?