Hearts-Hibs final word: Has Steven Naismith done enough, running out of steam, derby chaos, bring on next season

In what has been a rollercoaster ride for both Edinburgh clubs, it was fitting that Hearts and Hibs’ final match of the 2022/23 Premiership season served up enough drama to satisfy five derbies, never mind one.
Will Fish hits the post for Hibs late on against Hearts as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Tynecastle.Will Fish hits the post for Hibs late on against Hearts as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Tynecastle.
Will Fish hits the post for Hibs late on against Hearts as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Tynecastle.

Each of the capital rivals’ quintet this term have had their own storyline – Martin Boyle’s late equaliser, Hearts’ New Year triumph, then their Scottish Cup victory, followed by Hibs’ win at Easter Road last month – and the final chapter of this campaign did not disappoint. In a 1-1 draw that secured fourth place for Hearts and left Hibs in fifth, we had five red cards, VAR interventions, two excellent goals, a touchline rammy between Lee Johnson and Steven Naismith which was followed by a full-scale melee between players and coaches. Pity poor Sky Sports, who must surely regret not broadcasting such chaos.

Some of the aggression went too far – Hibs have sent footage of a claimed assault on their defender Marijan Cabraja by a Hearts supporter and have called for the “severest of sanctions”. This is a fixture that brings out the best and worst of fans. And managers, too. Johnson cannot be excused for a jab at the ribs of Naismith after the two shook hands. There is no love lost between the pair and if Naismith lands the Hearts job on a permanent basis, we could have a rivalry to top the Neil Lennon-Craig Levein one of five years ago.

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Naismith’s future is now the burning issue following his seven matches as caretaker boss at Tynecastle. Promoted from the club’s B-team to replace the sacked Robbie Neilson, he was unable to overhaul Aberdeen in third place but a fourth-placed finish is not a disaster by any stretch given what he inherited. Hearts were on a losing run and fans upset with life under their former manager. Naismith has won two matches, drawn three and lost two in his brief stint, an away derby at Hibs in his first game and at home to champions Celtic. The attacking brand of football he asks his team to play has curried favour with the players and most of the fans, while Yutaro Oda – their goalscorer in this match – has flourished under his watch. As auditions go, Naismith has put in a good one. The Hearts board will meet imminently to discuss the way forward. Potentially Naismith’s tender years in the management game will count against him but what will also come into the mix are the other candidates out there.

Hearts' interim manger Steven Naismith (L) and Hibs manager Lee Johnson (C) clash at the end of the match.Hearts' interim manger Steven Naismith (L) and Hibs manager Lee Johnson (C) clash at the end of the match.
Hearts' interim manger Steven Naismith (L) and Hibs manager Lee Johnson (C) clash at the end of the match.

Had Hearts lost to Hibs and dropped to fifth place, the atmosphere would have been sombre and Naismith’s chances would have been damaged. As it was, the full-time whistle was greeted with celebrations by the home fans. After taking an early lead through Oda’s crisp left-footed strike from just outside the Hibs penalty box just nine minutes in. Hearts lost control when Alex Cochrane was sent off – again – for denying Chris Cadden a clear goalscoring opportunity just outside the box on 29 minutes. VAR overturned referee Don Robertson’s original penalty award but Kevin Nisbet is just as deadly from 19 yards than 12, sweeping a fine free-kick past Zander Clark. Hibs piled on the pressure for the rest of the half but could not take a clutch of good chances and while they dominated the whole of the second half, they could not find a way past Clark, their closest moment coming when a Will Fish header deflected on to the post. Hibs ran out of steam, composure and ideas by 80 minutes, unable to crack their rivals. In hindsight, half-time was a killer for them as it halted their momentum and allowed the Jambos to regroup and reorganise.

The draw therefore felt like a win for Hearts. They know they are in the Europa Conference League qualifiers. Hibs, two points behind in the end, need to wait a week to discover their European fate. A Celtic win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle in Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final will give them the same reward as Hearts, only in the second qualifying round rather than the third. Given the team was struggling and pressure on Johnson intensifying back in January, such an outcome has to be celebrated by those at Easter Road. There is plenty to build on for the next campaign.

Johnson may not be in the dugout for the start of it, though. His red card and misdemeanours throughout his maiden stint in Scottish football will more than likely result in a suspension. A passionate manager, he overstepped the line with Naismith, who himself is a ball of emotion on the touchline. Their own fracas led to a ridiculous rammy on the pitch: the injured CJ Egan-Riley had his cap lifted by Hearts reserve goalie Ross Stewart, who also threw a hot water bottle in the direction of Johnson during the match, while Hibs defender Rocky Bushiri needed to be restrained by two officials to stop him wading into the rumpus, no doubt trying to seek out Hearts coach Paul Gallacher after they clashed. Stewart, Bushiri and Gallacher all picked up red cards alongside Johnson.

This was a match you could not take your eyes off and the viewing will continue to be fascinating at both Edinburgh clubs during the next few weeks. Hearts will now have to make a decision on their next manager and that itself will bring a flurry of activity, while Johnson is already well down the road in his summer overhaul of the playing squad. And then there’s the European draws in June: Hearts are there, and Hibs will hope to join them as they turn into Celtic fans for a weekend. As this season comes to an end in the capital, the next one already feels like one to relish.



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