IN the end, it all went off rather peacefully. Supporters arrived on time with minimal travel disruption, no trouble inside the National Stadium, no real controversy of note to grab the attention. Just a momentous and rampant Hearts performance. For a support dragged through the mill more times than a baggy woolly jumper this season, defeat by their Capital rivals and the subsequent concession of a cup final place would surely have been too much to stomach.
As it was, the Hearts players adopted the same defiant attitude as their disciples did when preparing for this unique occasion.
Losing was never an option considered nor mentioned by interim head coach Valdas Ivanauskas as he rallied his players through the previous seven days leading up to the Scottish Cup semi-final.
As all around Edinburgh built themselves up into a frenzy, organising champagne breakfasts in the Capital and overnight stays in Glasgow, the Lithuanian did a commendable job of deflecting attention from his squad.
The successful retention of full focus on the process of eliminating Hibs eventually allowed the 22,500 gathered round Hampden’s Mount Florida end to dance deliriously throughout Sunday afternoon and evening as they scattered back to whence they came.
It was as if God himself had peered down on Glasgow’s south side around midday yesterday, and after pondering the travails involved in following Hearts this season opted to grant a bunch of truly loyal supporters one truly unforgettable afternoon.
Of course, the Great One was aided and abetted by Paul Hartley, who delivered three moments of divine intervention himself. The consequence for Hibs fans was another Hampden disappointment, one that will rank at the top of their list of cruellest and most painful days following their club.
Yet, their side began the day almost in dominant pose. In the 28 minutes preceding Hartley’s nonchalant opener, Hibs had enjoyed the bulk of possession and had Hearts virtually hemmed inside their own half. There were decent chances for Gary Caldwell and Ivan Sproule, with a Steven Whittaker drive sandwiched in between that brought a crucial fingertip save from Craig Gordon.
Hearts, in truth, appeared most in danger of conceding the first goal of the afternoon when they promptly ran up the park and scored it. Rudi Skacel dispossessed the Hibs debutant Abdessalam Benjelloun midway inside his own half and fed instantly to the energetic Hartley. His pass out to the left side found Edgaras Jankauskas in space, but the eye was drawn to Hartley as he continued his run into the Hibs penalty area.
Jankauskas’ return was in the form of a precise cross for the Scotland midfielder to flick with the outside of his right boot, and once the ball had crept past Zibi Malkowski and crossed the goal line via the inside of the post the Hearts celebrations got under way.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Hartley. “I looked in the mirror in the morning and told myself it was going to be my day, so to score a hat-trick was tremendous.”
His second arrived on 59 minutes, bringing an almost impish look to the face of the former Hibs player. With Malkowski, and to be fair most of the 43,000 inside Hampden, expecting Hartley’s left-sided free-kick to be curled into the penalty area to prompt an aerial contest, the midfielder caught the goalkeeper by surprise and swung the ball into the net at the near post.
His third from the penalty spot came three minutes from time after Gary Smith had tugged the shirt of Hearts substitute Michal Pospisil, although the offence occurred outside the penalty area. Smith was instantly dismissed but by that time it was academic, as Malkowski had endured his second nightmare moment only seven minutes previously when he appeared slow to emerge from his box to clear a Rudi Skacel long ball. Edgaras Jankauskas’ reactions were quicker, and he took the ball off the Pole’s toe before rolling in the third.
Hearts’ dominance was a measure of the all-encompassing game they were playing. It was certainly too strong for Hibs to contend with, and it has ensured potentially another memorable day for Hearts’ support back at the National Stadium on May 13.