Smiling broadly, the Premiership Manager of the Month added to an unbeaten league run that now stretches to eight games and which has seen his team collect 21 points from a possible 24. And, by winning his first capital derby, he steered Hibs above their city rivals.
Daryl Horgan was the Hibs hero, scoring a goal in each half to move his side into fifth place.
It is a feat that must have seemed ridiculous to Heckingbottom when he arrived in the middle of February, with the Leith side 11 points behind their neighbours. But, game by game, he has ticked off targets and having secured top six and leapfrogged Hearts he admitted that he has not given up hope of clinching a European spot.
Talking about the league run in, and the encounters with teams stationed above them, he said he would learn a lot about the players he inherited. A goal down yesterday and under the cosh at a ground where Hibs had not won a derby in six years, he made a few tactical tweaks and trusted his men to get themselves out of the quandary and show the character and wherewithal in front of goal to justify his faith.
“Once we got in front I felt confident with how the boys have been defending through the time we have been there,” said Heckingbottom. “And when you get in front you get a little bit more space going the other way.
“We have that steel and grit. While they were top class in the first half, we weathered the storm and fell back on a lot of the work we have done on the training ground. If a team is that determined to put the ball into your box you can’t always stop that, you just have to deal with it when it goes in there.”
The response was notable, Hearts had been rampant at times in that opening 45 minutes, with Jake Mulraney full of verve and the team getting forward in waves, as Uche Ikpeazu battled it out with Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon and Sean Clare gave Lewis Stevenson a torrid time. Winning multiple corners and whipping balls into the penalty area they were the team on top but converting that pressure was an issue for the home side, as they failed time and again to find the net. Wasteful in front of goal, they sent efforts soaring over and wide, while Olly Lee, who scored the winner the last time the teams met, was denied another derby goal by the post.
From set pieces Hearts posed a real danger but somehow they had to wait until the 24th minute to get the goal their efforts merited.
It came when Peter Haring rose high above marker Mark Milligan and sent a header past Ofir Marciano from a corner.
“We knew as a team what their threat would be,” said Heckingbottom. “It was obviously their height compared to ours. So we knew we had to stand up to that. Obviously they scored a goal from it but apart from that we did superbly all game.
“But we had to be able to hurt them as well and probably the one quality moment in the game was [Hibs’] second goal. We have to be able to show both sides of the game.”
Given their grip on proceedings the hosts must have expected to go on and add to that tally but they were given a brutal lesson in making chances count man when Hibs responded with an equaliser four minutes later.
Jolted into life, the movement of Florian Kamberi, Marc McNulty and Horgan began to trouble the Hearts rearguard and, swift on the counterattack, McNulty got to the byeline and played the cut back to the influential Horgan, who beat Bobby Burns to the ball to bury his strike past Zdenek Zlamal.
Just before half time there was a penalty shout when Stephane Omeonga caught John Souttar but the spot kick wasn’t given and it was another moment for Hearts to rue when Horgan wrapped up another sweeping and brisk Hibs foray upfield in the 56th minute. The 26-year-old has been a key performer for the Leith team in recent months and while Kamberi, Mallan and the Irishman were all involved, it was the winger who slotted it past Zlamal to give his team a lead they would not relinquish.
“They scored with their first two shots on target which is clinical and we were the opposite of that, said Hearts manager Craig Levein. “The frustrating thing is I think we have played a hell of a lot worse in recent derby matches and won but the inability to be clinical in the penalty box has ultimately cost us the game.”