Hibs v Hearts was more than just cup derby - it encapsulated where each club is right now

Nine games without defeat in the Edinburgh derby, this was also the fourth time in the past five seasons that Hearts have ended Hibs’ involvement in the Scottish Cup.

Hearts' Lawrence Shankland scores to make it 2-0 with an excellent strike.
Hearts' Lawrence Shankland scores to make it 2-0 with an excellent strike.

But this game was more than a cup tie, more than a derby. It was an insight into both clubs’ fortunes, shining a light of their respective strengths and weaknesses.

With so much at stake, Hibs played on the front foot and pulled out one of the better performances of their season but they squandered the opportunities created, while Hearts, although shy of their best, were clinical when it mattered and displayed a resolve and belief that the capital rivals can only aspire to at the moment in clinching a 3-0 victory.

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It was a performance that might have seen Hibs through to the next round of the Scottish Cup against most other opponents but in Hearts they faced dogged resistance as they gave manager Robbie Neilson, who was in the stands as a consequence of his midweek red card, his first ever victory at Easter Road as a player or coach.

Toby Sibbick, far right, leads the Hearts celebrations in front of the away support at Easter Road.

Key to that was a player who, with his second-half goal, equalled the goalscoring exploits of club legend John Roberston, becoming the first Gorgie player to hit 20 goals in a season since season 1991/92. The fact he did so in a derby, where the Hammer of Hibs cemented his place in Hearts folklore as the record goalscorer in the capital contest, with 27 goals in total, was only fitting.

The 72nd-minute goal was Shankland’s third in three Edinburgh derbies, a return Robbo himself would be proud of, and, more importantly in this game, the away side’s second goal of the match served as a nerve settler for a team who had taken an early lead but had their backs to the wall for much of the encounter.

Thanks to a brilliant display from the three-man backline, of James Hill, Toby Sibbick and Kye Rowles, who repelled, blocked or suffocated virtually everything thrown at them (the post helped them out on the couple of occasions when they didn’t) and marshalled the in-form Kevin Nisbet, Hibs were unable to conjure up an effective finish or the goal they will feel their efforts merited.

Looking to avoid a repeat of the recent league match, when Hearts took an early lead and then managed proceedings, Hibs went for it from the outset, with Elie Youan in particular looking effective. The Frenchman would give Alex Cochrane a torrid afternoon but he would be denied a goal as Hearts closed ranks.

Josh Ginnelly opened the scoring with this early strike for Hearts.

And, Hearts gave lessons in being clinical when they took the lead against the run of play. Ryan Porteous had been looking for the fairytale finish to his Hibs career but he gave away the free-kick which was swung in by Robert Snodgrass and cleared only as far as Josh Ginnelly, who connected perfectly to send his shot fizzing past David Marshall.

Robert Snodgrass and Cammy Devlin are usually reliable in the middle of the park but Hibs’ new signing James Jeggo, thrown into a defensive role alongside Lewis Stevenson due to Joe Newell’s suspension and injuries to Kyle Magennis and Jake Doyle-Hayes, helped to negate their worth to the visitors.

Recruitment has been a stick to beat Hibs with in the past couple of years, especially when compared to Hearts’ successes in that department, but the Australian could be an asset. But if the Gorgie side gave up control of the midfield, at each end of the park they were superior. Assured at the back, they were ruthless up front.

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Much has been made of the unsettling effect of long-term injuries to Hearts’ defence but Neilson appears to have found a way to minimise the impact. Rowles was imperious once again, Hill impressive in his first derby and Sibbick’s ongoing transformation an inspiration.

This was a player who, when he came on in the first derby of the season, was viewed by many as a weak link. But he has proved himself time and again since, winning over the fans who now sing his name. Part of a young defence that is able to keep a stalwart like Stephen Kingsley on the subs bench, he is now adding goals to his game.

Having raced upfield in a lone foray in stoppage time, he had the wherewithal and composure to pick his spot and then clip the ball over Marshall and into the net.

Runners-up last season – they have featured in the final in three of the past four seasons – it reiterated Hearts’ ability to dig in, weather a storm and get things done. It also illustrated another major difference between the rival teams. While pundits and punters argue who is best between Nisbet and Shankland, the fact is the former carries a heavier burden at the moment and when he is shackled Hibs have few others they can rely on to find the net. Hearts do not have the same concerns. While Shankland undoubtedly leads the line, goals are spread throughout the team, with 14 players weighing in so far. Which is just as well as Shankland was sent packing as the game moved into stoppage time, thanks to a second coming together with Rocky Bushiri and second yellow card, and he will miss the next tie, away to Hamilton.

But for Hibs there is more work to be done, in the transfer market, as they look for defensive reinforcements if, as feared, Bushiri has broken his leg, and Porteous moves on before the end of the month, and also on the training pitch. In Aiden McGeady and Youan, they have players who can get forward but when it comes to the final ball, they need to make it tougher for the opposition to work out where the goal threat is coming from. Nisbet can’t do it all by himself. That much was evident as their Scottish Cup dream died at the hands of their rivals.