On the top deck of the No 16 bus trundling down Leith Walk on Saturday night, the young Jambo was on the phone yabbering to a friend about the game, the goal and his team’s first win at Easter Road for four years.
He was singing the Olly Lee song only to halt mid-verse when half a dozen Hibs fans boarded. At the next stop, when the Jambo found himself even more outnumbered, he killed the call.
But there was no trouble. As the bus continued to Newhaven, there was even some well-reasoned post-match analysis from the Hearts supporter and the Hibbies sat closest to him. “A good New Year when it comes, boys,” said the Jambo getting to his feet, “and by the way you should have called the game off. Our manager would have done.”
Neil Lennon’s decision to not seek a postponement when having 11 men out for various reasons will now enter the annals of this fixture, qualifying the game for its own dedicated chapter. Hibs v Hearts may not cause Sky Sports’ Ian Crocker to spontaneously combust like Celtic v Rangers does, but it can produce stirring, stramashful yarns.
Look at the previous five encounters, each of them chapter-worthy. This time last year we had the Ghost Goal Derby, quickly followed by the Natural Order Derby. Then came the What Do You Mean Natural Order? Derby and the That’s It, I’m Off Derby, although Lennon, squinting through the cracks in his fingers at a future without not only John McGinn but Dylan McGeouch too, would calm down later. Maybe the least said about the Coin Throw Derby the better but there was some football played this time, by both teams.
Easter Road and the bigger pitch always offers more chance of that and, in Lennon’s three wins in the fixture thus far, he’s sent the wingers he loves galloping up the flanks. On Saturday, though, he was denied the services of Martin Boyle, pictured, and Brandon Barker’s replacement Thomas Agyepong and they were much missed, although Hearts had remembered to bring some full-backs this time and both Marcus Godinho and Ben Garuccio turned in tenacious performances which typified Hearts on the night.
“You’re making Haring look like bloody Beckenbauer!” This was the despairing cry from a home fan in the West Stand as Peter the mountainous Austrian, unencumbered by his height or his mullet, produced the dominant midfield showing of the night. He was forced off early in the second half but the problem was his hernia rather than anyone representing Hibernia.
Hearts had a numerical advantage in the middle of the park, four playing three. Added to that, the trio in green and white no longer consisted of McGinn, McGeouch – man of the match in both Hibs’ derby victories on home turf last season – and Scott Allan.
Whoever came into the midfield was always going to suffer by comparison. Between them Stevie Mallan, Daryl Horgan and Vykintas Slivka don’t possess McGinn’s engine, McGeouch’s composure and Allan’s cuteness with a reverse pass. Mallan musters more of a goal threat than all his predecessors put together but the strikes have dried up for him recently. He’s played just about every game in this campaign and looks frazzled.
Saturday wasn’t a complete performance by Hearts but it was a good one. Jambos will wonder why Olly Lee doesn’t hit more goals like his sizzling winner and when Sean Clare is ever going to score. Their team were hanging on by the end but Saturday made it a hat-trick of wins over Hibs for Levein in 2018 and coming in Leith, where Hearts had not even managed a shot on target in recent times, made it all the sweeter.
So, would Levein have asked for a postponement if he’d been in Lennon’s position with a whole team injured or away on international duty? I reckon he would have done, and in the wake of Hearts’ casualty-list earlier in the season, who could blame him?
But what a strange, curate’s egg of a campaign it has been for both the Edinburgh clubs. Not so long ago they were first and second in the Premiership and there was vaguely delirious talk of title challenges. But while both have beaten Celtic at home, Hearts have been thrashed by Livingston and Hibs, according to Lennon, were “pathetic” in losing to Kilmarnock.
The capital rivals will bunk down for winter hoping to re-emerge with more consistency, though that’s a fond hope of many in what is proving to be the most competitive and compelling season for years. Levein, now 3-2 ahead of Lennon in victories in his return to the derby fray, will believe this can be achieved by getting all Hearts’ long-term injured back.
Lennon, on the other hand, is unhappy with his striking options and talking about the need for recruitment.
That he could be asking the board to allow him to replace his own signings won’t faze him. He’s got previous here, having moved on Anthony Stokes and Simon Murray 12 months ago, and that worked out fine. But the problem this time is do with the supply to the frontmen, and Hibs fans old enough to reference Beckenbauer know that at Easter Road thrilling threesomes like McGinn, McGeouch and Allan only come along once in a green moon.