Hearts and Hibs serve up derby chaos: meaty tackles, food, drink hot water bottle chucked, punches thrown, 'we’ve got fourth, they ain’t'
“We’re not really bothered, to be honest. We’ve got fourth, they ain’t!” said the Jambos forward. After all the jostling and flying fists, that verbal punch to the gut landed. Because after a long, hard season, that is the fact that mattered most.
In the days and weeks to come, when post-mortems are held, Hearts will acknowledge that finishing fourth in the Premiership, while the best they could hope for as they headed into the final fixture, was not what they had been aiming for. Across the city, Hibs could still be looking back on a transitional season which delivered European football – provided Celtic see off Inverness Caledonian Thistle in next weekend’s Scottish Cup final to free up an extra qualifying spot for the fifth-place finishers – with an element of satisfaction, having improved on last term and bolstering hopes for the next. But, in the final head to head of the season, when even more than bragging rights were up for grabs, Hibs were unable to get the victory they required, despite being up against 10 men for an hour of the match.
They have bemoaned time-wasting and negative tactics but whether they approved of the methods or not, Hearts showed a ruthlessness they could not counter and did what was needed on the day, grabbing the opening goal through Yutaro Oda in the eighth minute and then managing the remainder of the game to see out the draw.
Even after Alex Cochrane was sent off for felling Chris Cadden as he burst through on goal, and Kevin Nisbet equalised from a set piece on the edge of the box, the home side frustrated their guests, who pressed for the winner but ultimately ran out of ideas and time. Cochrane had initially escaped with a yellow card but VAR intervened. The penalty which had been awarded was downgraded to a free-kick, just outside the area, but the punishment was upgraded from yellow to red.
“Look, we threw away third, that’s just the honest truth,” admitted Ginnelly, who is still in talks with the club aimed at extending his contract into next term and beyond. “So, the full focus was on that fourth position. We’ve kicked ourselves in the teeth [in allowing Aberdeen to overhaul them and finish in the top three], but we have shown great character to come back and secure fourth.”
In the build-up to this match, Aussie full-back Lewis Miller claimed that Hibs were planning to paint the capital green. But, in the end that green coloured in a picture of envy as they came up just short in the scuffle for city seniority. There have been signs of improvement at the Leith club throughout this season and, if the scenes, during and at the end of what was a bit of a grudge match are anything to go by this defeat will focus Hibs minds.
It was always going to be a notable contest. With so much on the line and the normal derby passions being fuelled by two fiery managers, neither side was likely to slide quietly into the summer recess. Hearts had been ahead for so long this term but they lost the last capital derby and this represented Hibs’ chance to not only make it their first back to back league wins over their foes since 2009, but it would also have completed their comeback and seen them overhaul their city rivals, on their own Gorgie patch, and bag the league’s last guaranteed European league spot. Instead they will have to wait to see if Celtic can do them a favour at Hampden next weekend and then regroup and try to improve ahead of the new campaign.
While Hearts will be able to enjoy their summer, the result will hurt Hibs for a while. They lost the early goal, when Oda was alert to a poor headed clearance and sent a low strike beyond David Marshall at the near post, but the equaliser came and then the hosts had to weather a storm as the chasing side applied the pressure, with efforts from Miller, Paul Hanlon, Kevin Nisbet, Harry McKirdy and Will Fish, the latter seeing his effort deflected off the post. But Nat Atkinson managed to stifle Elie Youan, which saw service dry up.
Sent on by Johnson to bolster the attack, McKirdy and Ewan Henderson failed to spark and the belief that had been evident going into the game began to drain and composure crumbled as Hearts’ determination not to be overtaken became more obvious as they were buoyed by the home crowd.
There was plenty of fight, though. Right from the off the combative nature of the play was clear as Lawrence Shankland flattened Miller, who was also the target for some food or drinks from the stands, while on the sidelines, combustible temperaments made for some craziness.
Marijan Cabraja was punched by Hearts fans as he tried to retrieve a loose ball from the front of the Wheatfield Stand, while Johnson bodychecked Hearts coach Gordon Forrest as he ventured into the home technical area to do the same. That, bizarrely, saw a hot water bottle launched in his direction by the unused and outgoing Hearts goalkeeper Ross Stewart, but that wasn’t the end of it as the Hibs gaffer had a dig at Naismith, ironically as they as they shook hands. Then mayhem ensued, as caps were flicked, punches thrown, and red cards were shown to Johnson, Rocky Bushiri of Hibs and coach Paul Gallacher and Stewart of Hearts.
When it comes to derbies, the bare minimum expected by fans is some fight. This wasn’t exactly what they had in mind but added to everything else, it made compelling viewing and means the first head-to-head of the new season will be even more keenly anticipated as they renew hostilities, this time in a battle for third place and silverware..