Hibs v Hearts reaction: Star man, Hibees cajones, biggest maroon mistake, Old Firm lesson from Capital rivalry
Hibs show cajones
This was a game which could be labelled a must win for the Hibees. Not only with Livingston winning against the worst team in the league in St Johnstone in the race for the top six, but in the context of Europe and a possible third place finish. They produced a performance that many Hibs fans desired. They had not won the derby since 2019. They were without a win in the fixture at Easter Road in more than five years. While their rivals had sacked their manager in pursuit of third, there was still plenty of pressure on the hosts, especially with Aberdeen winning on Friday night. Hibs turned up. There was a moment early in the game down in the far corner where the away end and the most vociferous Hibees meet. In the space of seconds Hibs players flew into the challenge. Hard but very much fair. It set the tone. Hibs were quicker, more alert, more aggressive, more powerful. Just better. They won the battle that needs to be won on derby day.
While the stadium announcer revealed match-winner Kevin Nisbet to be the man of the match – an understandable decision – there were a few options for such an accolade, none more so than Joe Newell. When the team was announced there were a few eyebrows raised regarding the system and also the lack of Kuharevich. The big striker was on the bench but the belief was his height and presence in the air would cause Hearts’ backline all sorts of problems. Yet, Johnson got it right. Chris Cadden was hugely productive as a right winger and then there was Joe Newell in an advanced midfield role. He helped give the home side a foothold in the match and was a disruptive presence, in a good way, winning the most tackles in the match and recovering the ball eight times for his team. It was a game he was clearly up for and that could be seen in the celebrations at the end.
Hearts’ January mistake
In the wake of Robbie Neilson’s sacking, there were question marks about the January transfer window at Tynecastle Park. Those questions have increased in volume. The team were in a strong position but could really have done with a couple of key additions to help solidify a third-place finish. One area which desperately needed filled was a commanding, aggressive, no-nonsense defender. Craig Halkett’s injury on Boxing Day at Dundee United meant Hearts, for the remainder of the season, were going to be without one of the best defenders in the air in the entire Premiership. They needed someone who could replicate that, take control when teams go long or the ball is swung in from wide or at set pieces. They didn’t. James Hill arrived on loan but he wasn't that type of player. That type of player was once more missed at Easter Road. Kevin Nisbet bullied and got the better of Toby Sibbick and in particular Kye Rowles. The Australian is a wonderful defender in his positioning and on the floor, able to run and has good pace but he has struggled with the physical side, especially lately. That physicality is missing throughout the team. There is no such thing as ‘big, physical Hearts’. And it is proving costly in a league where you need that physical side and need someone who is a dominant player in the air.
There were plenty of grumbles from match-going fans when this fixture was switched to a 12.30pm kick-off. The clubs agreed to a switch from the traditional 3pm slot with the game not being picked for live coverage by Sky Sports so it could be shown on PPV. It meant the build-up was eaten into. Instead of having five to six hours on the cans, starting at 9am, it was condensed into three. There is a belief an early Saturday afternoon encounter can be a tame one with supporters needing a bit of time to come to life. At Easter Road that wasn't the case, certainly with the home support, with the Hibs ultras in early and getting warmed up. As Kilmarnock Blues played, the atmosphere built towards kick-off with the green and white faithful much louder than their Gorgie counterparts. Slowly but surely the visitors found their voice, accompanied with smoke bombs, of both colours, adding to the smell, the colour, the experience. Which brings us to the beauty of derby day. Rivalry, hostilities, tribalism. A proper rivalry requires two sets of fans, something the Capital clubs both recognise with their agreement of the full stand for visiting fans. While there is much (much, much) better quality when Celtic and Rangers meet, one thing they can’t hold over their Capital opponents is the experience and atmosphere of a derby until they sort themselves out and get away fans back in.
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