Sunday’s encounter at Tynecastle Park had all the makings of a classic with Hearts and Hibs sitting second and first in the cinch Premiership at the start of the weekend. There was a real belief that a goal fest would transpire but realistically that was never going to be the case.
Both sides came into the match with an impressive defensive set-up, with the best xGA (goals expected to concede) so far this campaign. And they showed exactly why in the stalemate with strong displays from defenders and even better performances from the two goalkeepers, earning praise from both managers.
It is easy to look at the score and assume it was a difficult watch. However, that wasn’t the case. It was a game which captivated for 90 minutes. Energetic, played at a high tempo with intensity from the stands and chances at both ends with 26 created.
Hearts’ upper hand
On the evidence of the 90 minutes, Hearts appear the stronger of the two Edinburgh sides. They created the better chances (xG of 1.39 to 1.03), they passed the ball better (75 per cent success rate compared to 66 per cent) and had greater control, aided by Beni Baningime and Peter Haring patrolling the midfield like a crack crime fighting duo. Any danger, problem or issue solved with little fuss.
Ross was missing key players in Jake Doyle-Hayes, Christian Doidge and Jamie Murphy, and his decision to switch from a 4-2-3-1 for the first time in the league proved to be a shrewd one, giving the side a strong platform. Joe Newell and Ryan Porteous were both excellent although it was an afternoon where it didn’t quite click in the final third with a degree of concern going forward over the lack of attacking addition before the transfer window closed.
The 15-year wait
While there was criticism of the managers from some fans – for Jack Ross it was another example of the Hibs boss being unable to win big games, for Robbie Neilson it was the substitutions – it is clear they have both built formidable squads up to the task of battling it out in the upper echelons of the league.
You look through both sides and they have a nice blend of energy, pace, experience and squad depth. More than that, they are difficult to play against.
Last week, Hearts boss Neilson talked about ambitions to challenge for the league title. It is encouraging to hear a lack of acceptance that it is a case of ‘best of the rest’ is good enough. Realistically, that may not occur this campaign, but looking around the Scottish Premiership at this early stage it is difficult to see a team getting amongst the Edinburgh and Glasgow clubs in the coming months. Already it would be a surprise if, for the first time in 15 years, Hearts and Hibs are not occupying a place in Scotland’s top four.
Expectations and demands should be high amongst both sets of fans, and maybe, just maybe, between now and the end of the season an Edinburgh derby may produce a goal fest we are all waiting for.