IN the build-up to this Edinburgh derby, the focus, understandably, was on manager Bobby Williamson. Having guided Hibs to successive victories over St Johnstone and Livingston and regained the much-needed organisation in the process, most neutrals expected the new man in charge at Easter Road to keep up the good work against Hearts.
The upturn in fortunes that had coincided with the arrival Williamson, bringing 3-0 wins over St Johnstone and Livingston, maybe accounted for Hibs opening with real fire in their bellies. It took only until the fifth minute for them to ignite a confrontation that crackled with life throughout a breathless first 45 minutes.
Hibs made the most of the present of a corner with John O’Neil swinging over a delivery that Gary Caldwell head-flicked towards the back post where O’Connor was lurking. The young striker was first to meet the ball as it dropped from the evening sky, his instinctive volley from eight yards rippling the rigging.
O’Connor remained alert and aggressive throughout the first half, Scott Severin making a goal-saving blocking tackle on the forward after he had muscled his way into the area, while Antti Niemi was required to make a diving one-handed stop after the rampaging forward had been released by a pass from John O’Neil. A calf strain prevented him completing the encounter and his enforced withdrawal midway through the second period upset the home side’s balance.
By then, Craig Levein’s men had forced their way into the game. The Hearts boss did exert a decisive influence on the outcome of this hectic game. Without a win over Hibs since succeeding Jim Jefferies and privately admitting to a growing sense of nervousness about the match, it was typical of the twisted logic of derbies that Levein should be the one who emerged with his reputation enhanced.
He proved the mastermind by changing formation to exploit the spaces Hibs left behind as they pushed forward in search of the winner, although the coach’s original selection which saw a centre-half, Kevin McKenna, start the game as a striker and a midfielder, Severin, line up in central defence, was a surprise. It was Severin however who found himself in the right position to net Hearts’ 41st-minute equaliser from a corner.
Steve Fulton’s delivery caused all manner of panic in the Hibs penalty box, several hacks from men in green failing to bring a clearance before Severin met the ball sweetly at the edge of the area to drive a low effort through a ruck of players and beyond the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Nick Colgan.
A bold change of tactics from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 with 15 minutes played in the second half could have backfired on Hearts, but a late counter attack saw Ricardo Fuller get the better of Gary Smith and then be brought down by a clumsy tackle from Caldwell.
As replays confirmed, it was a penalty and Steven Pressley, Hearts’ club captain, matched technique with nerve by driving the winning goal hard and low into the corner to send the Hearts fans home on a high.
Hibs: Colgan, Orman, Smith, Murray, Caldwell, Jack, Arpinon, De La Cruz, O’Neil, Brewster, O’Connor. Subs used: Luna, Brebner, Townsley.
Hearts: Niemi, Maybury, Mahe, Severin, Pressley, Gronlund, Simmons, Fulton, Sloan, McKenna, Fuller. Subs used: Wales, Flogel.