Hibernian 0 - 1 Hearts: Olly Lee strike seals derby win

Hearts' Olly Lee celebrates his goal. Pic: SNS/Alan Harvey
Hearts' Olly Lee celebrates his goal. Pic: SNS/Alan Harvey
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An evening when it was about quality and not just quantity. At home, Hibs had a bigger percentage of the crowd, and more of the possession, they also had more shots at goal but it was Hearts who proved more adept in making the most of what they had.

It is something the Gorgie side have struggled with over the past couple of months as they lost key players but the return of Christophe Berra and Steven Naismith has imbued them with some genuine class and after a win against Hamilton midweek, they also look like some of the confidence that flowed through the team at the start of the season is returning.

Up against a Hibs side blighted by injury woes of their own and decimated further by the loss of their Australian trio to international obligations, the visitors were the more clinical side in the final third and the more solid in defence, particularly when Hibs threw everything, including Darren McGregor, at them in the dying minutes. Bombarding their rivals with balls into the area Hearts proved resolute, and were able to had to head clear, hoof away or simply get bodies in the way and pressure Hibs who then squandered any follow up.

But for all Hibs possession, it was Hearts that seemed the more likely in what became a fairly even contest as the match wore on. Comfortable to absorb anything that Hibs threw at them, Hearts were pressing their hosts in that early period, hustling them into mistakes and winning second balls.

It has been a tough month, with games against Celtic, two against Rangers and a difficult encounter with Livingston but they had managed to negotiate those fixtures fairly well but tonight proved a game too far and they will head into the winter break stuck in the bottom six and seven points adrift of their capital foes, who are now within six points of the top place spot they occupied in those early weeks of the campaign.

But if Craig Levein and his side go into the new year with plenty to look forward to, Neil Lennon knows that he has a job on his hands recruiting the kind of creativity and threat in the final third that cost him any points last night.

How Hibs would have loved to have the creative threat of Scott Allan on the park rather than in the stands. The Celtic player who has already had two spells at Hibs could be on his way back in January but that was of no use to Neil Lennon yesterday as he struggled to find the balance he needed across in midfield and up front with the personnel he had at his disposal.

There were chances for the home side. The best was arguably when Steven Whittaker’s long-range effort crashed off the inside of Colin Doyle’s post and spun invitingly across the empty goalmouth. That was in the 80th minute as Hibs tried to turn the screw but by the Hearts had established their lead, dug their heels in and they made it clear that no-one was going to prevent them dishing out defeat.

It was the first time they had tasted victory at Easter Road since 2014. But there was little they could do about the strike that separated the sides come the final whistle.

Hearts midfield had been the more competitive throughout the first half and Steven Naismith and Sean Clare proved invaluable foils just ahead of Peter Haring, Olly Lee and Arnaud Djoum.

Naismith tested the Hibs rearguard at the start of both halves and when he took a tumble in the sixth minute, he seriously threatened in the 46th, forcing a save from Adam Bogdan.

In another end to end encounter Oli Shaw played in Florian Kamberi three minutes later but his effort soared over.

Then Naismith, Lee and Haring all linked up and the Austrain was inches away from getting the necessary touch at the back post, he did lay it off to lee again and he tried to pick out Naismith but Bogdan stepped in.

Hurtling straight back up the other end, Daryl Horgan crossed in for Shaw but his header missed the target.

It was a familiar story for Hibs who just couldn’t find the end product.

Hearts had fewer opportunities but, tellingly, more of them were on target. From set pieces Michael Smith and Sean Clare had pops at goal but it was the 28th minute strike from Lee that proved the pivotal contribution.

From a Djoum ball forward, Clare headed on to the Englishman, who is venerated by the Hearts support, and with his back to goal and looking like he may attempt to lay it off, he instead spun Paul Hanlon and fired a searing strike past Bogdan to silence three sides of the ground and send the other crazy with delight.

It was similar scenes at the final whistle because, while Hibs huffed and puffed and laid siege Hearts had an answer to every question posed and when they didn’t, lady luck and the post made sure it wasn’t there night.