Preventative measures were supposed to dominate this Edinburgh derby. But there was no way to stop mass outbreaks of hugging and kissing in the away end as Hearts ignited their top flight survival hopes.
Three second half goals meant Hibs were added to the slowly growing number of teams against whom Daniel Stendel has earned wins. Before Tuesday, this list was made up by Rangers (twice), Falkirk and Airdrie.
Hibs are the very welcome latest victims on a night when there was meant to be limited contact. Try telling that to the joyous Hearts players and supporters as they jumped on top of each other to greet goals from Sean Clare, from the penalty spot, Ollie Bozanic, the match winner against Rangers four days earlier, and Conor Washington.
One thing Hearts had hoped to catch was Martin Boyle. While he was still Hibs’ main danger man, he was well shackled by teenager Aaron Hickey. When crosses from the winger did flash across the box there was no one there to take advantage. Hibs picked the wrong time to start struggling to score.
When they did conjure up a goal, from substitute Melker Hallberg, it was far too late. Hearts picked the right time to go a little crazy. They are off the bottom for the time being.
The decree had gone out from the authorities; no handshakes. The pre-match pleasantries were therefore cut short. There was something old school about both sets of players fanning out of the tunnel to their respective halves rather than engage in the choreographed team line-up ritual.
Even the skippers, Paul Hanlon and Craig Halkett, forsook the handshake after tossing the – presumably disinfected – coin in the centre circle. Not so much as an elbow bump.
It was possible to question the point of all this when Halkett then shook hands with his teammates on his way to his centre half berth, where he then shared a lingering hug with his defensive partner Clevid Dikamona. The usual derby rules also applied to the game itself; grappling pretty much permitted.
Concern for each other’s welfare certainly did not extend to the 90 minutes. Only Marc McNulty can explain why he stamped on Clare’s back after the Hearts midfielder had done well to draw a foul out on the far touchline. McNulty escaped censure – for now.
The Hearts fans had crossed the border into the Republic of Leith with some trepidation. Not necessarily because of any virus fears. They feared being hastened towards the trap door by their rivals. Of course, we’ve been in this movie before.
It’s only March, too early for relegation parties. In any event, Hibs have surely learned their lesson. What the hosts might have wished to do was reinforce some stereotypes. Hibs were supposed to have plugged back into the swashbuckling ways of old. Hearts, meanwhile, looked a lot more rugged and pragmatic in their last outing against Rangers. It suited them – and that’s no criticism.
On the wide expanse of Easter Road, hoping to outplay a side who have been outscored only by Celtic and Rangers in the league this season, might have been foolhardy. But this is Stendel we’re talking about. Most managers try to ignore as respectfully as possible requests from fans to give then a wave. Not the German. He stuck both hands in the air and gestured wildly towards the Hearts throng.
One surprise was Steven Naismith’s omission from the starting XI. Liam Boyce, his replacement, sent a header narrowly over in a first half where Hearts were certainly matching their hosts. It said everything about the game that the craft and invention of Hibs’ midfield was rarely seen. Scott Allan was replaced before the hour mark.
One did wonder about the impact of John Souttar’s absence. It was another test for Dikamona, whose return to the first-team was through a simple process of elimination.
There’s no one else. It did seem strange that Christophe Berra, veteran of these occasions and whose presence on the bench at least would have surely provided some added comfort for Hearts, was playing 60 miles up the road for Dundee against Alloa Athletic.
But Dikamona excelled once again even if he does have a habit of embarking on unnecessary mazeys.
There had been some talk of the recently free scoring - if somewhat defensively suspect - Hibs simply needing to score more goals than the visitors. It was not quite the way it turned out.