Hibs hurt: The story of a derby when Jack Ross' men just didn't quite click
On the losing side when Scotland took on Israel in the Nations League play-off shoot out earlier this month, he was subjected to more semi-final spot kick disappointment as Hearts maintained their hold over their city rivals at the national stadium.
It was a cruel blow for a man who had made telling interventions and shown his quality to help keep Hearts at bay.
The sides could not be separated in the normal 90 minutes, the margins between them so slim, but just minutes after Kevin Nisbet had failed to convert the penalty awarded to the Premiership side when Joe Newell had shown guile to burst around the outside of the unsighted centre-back Mihai Popescu, Liam Boyce stepped up at the other end – the beneficiary of a regrettable Paul McGinn challenge in the box – and drove the ball past the Hibs keeper.
It was enough to ensure that Hibs would head back along the M8, nursing another Hampden hangover as they lost 2-1.
The name's Bond ...
In a doff of the bunnet to Sir Sean Connery, another of Edinburgh’s finest, the Capital foes had emerged from the tunnel for the first of the weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-finals to the sound of the James Bond theme blasting out.
The last couple of occasions that the teams had faced up at Hampden, it was Hibs who were left shaken and stirred and in need of a few martinis to dull the pain of Paul Hartley’s 2006 tutorial and the 2012 Scottish Cup final mauling.
That was back in the days of the Hampden hoodoo, though. Since then, the Leith side have been back. Having ousted Hearts on their way to the final in 2016, they finally succeeded in making themselves at home inside the national stadium, when agony and angst were finally replaced by delirious exuberance.
And, given the way this season has played out thus far, they were confident as they headed into what may turn out to be the only Capital head-to-head of the season due to Hearts’ place in the second tier.
The intensity usually associated with the fixture was diluted by the absence of fans inside the stadium but Hibs boss Jack Ross had hoped that may lead to better decision-making and some calmer heads.
But it took his side slightly longer than he may have liked to get up to speed and, while putting up a solid fight, not enough of them reached their full potential.
A tough evening for Doig
Hibs are a team with a solid defensive presence and that has allowed them to keep rivals at bay and pick their moments to get forward.
They had started with four along the backline but the absence of Lewis Stevenson, who had not recovered from the ankle injury sustained last weekend, meant a recall for young Josh Doig. With Kyle Magennis starting ahead of him on that left flank, it presented a weakness in a team that has been dogged by few this term.
Doig was left wanting as Craig Wighton got by him early doors and, on the big stage, with so much at stake, he did not look as assured as he had done when breaking into the Easter Road side at the commencement of the season.
Had Jamie Murphy been fit enough to start ahead of him, that may have helped but as it was, that was the side of the pitch Hearts attacked to get the opening goal as with Doig out of position, they Gorgie side were able to finally make the breakthrough.
Not quite brought to Boyle
In the minds of many fans, this was the game that would serve as a report card for the season so far.
More than a quarter of a season into the league campaign, there is no doubting the improvement in Hibs under Ross’ stewardship. Still a work in progress, he has successfully drilled the defence, brought in players to enhance the side and brought the best out of men he inherited.
Joe Newell falls into the latter category and Hearts appeared well aware of the need to compete in the middle of the park, where the Englishman and Alex Gogic have formed an impressive partnership. But there was something lacking to their right and left, as Martin Boyle’s form continued to prove and issue.
When he did get involved, his forward bursts tested Hearts rearguard but the final decision-making or delivery was not of the standard the club had hoped for when they extended his contract earlier this season.
But the mark of this Hibs side, is the faith they have in each other. That stems from the number of clean sheets they have managed, the goals they have conjured up from guys like Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet and the mental steeliness that they have developed after coming from behind to take points or successfully protecting any advantage they gain.
Hibs have come back from losing positions already this season … notably in one of their most notable performances, against Rangers. That ended in a draw, though, and such an equitable outcome could not be accepted when there was a place in the final rather than points at stake.
That was to prove the issue.
Having restored parity in the 67th minute, when Newell delivered an inviting free-kick into the area and Doidge headed home, they were unable to add to that and had to deal with extra time.
Not quite firing on all cylinders, the penalty miss from Nisbet, was an example of that. One of the most lethal strikers in Scotland, he was the one who crashed his effort off the bar. It summed up HIbs night as they were again left to lick their wounds.