Plenty of positives for Paul Heckingbottom
Paul Heckingbottom said before the match that, with six games against the top five to come, he’d see what his players are really made of. If the first of these encounters was anything to go by, it appears to be strong stuff.
Hibernian were poor for much of the first half and could have conceded far earlier than they eventually did. Peter Haring’s goal seemed to energise the Easter Road side though and they weren’t behind for long thanks to a smart cross from McNulty and Daryl Horgan’s anticipation.
Heckingbottom changed his side’s shape and they were significantly improved after the break, ultimately deserving of the lead that came through the game’s only bit of genuine quality. Hibs rode their luck at times - the centre halves were, on occasion, fortunate to escape tussles with Uche Ikpeazu without censure and the hosts contrived to miss a couple of good chances - but Heckingbotom’s men showed characteristics which will serve them well for the top six battles ahead.
Flares and coconuts show there’s no quick fix to disorder
In midweek Police Scotland issued a warning to fans not to take flares, alcohol or missiles to the Tynecastle encounter or they risked being prosecuted. It fell on deaf ears. Before the game had even begun, a flare had been launched onto the turf and it wasn’t to be the last as both maroon and green smoke drifted across the chill Edinburgh air during the first half. At one point, television cameras cut to the incongruous sight of a coconut lying on the turf having been thrown by someone in the crowd.
For all the warnings over the past few weeks - from police, from clubs, from managers - a certain section of the football-going public will continue to pay little heed. It will take a concerted effort from all parties to improve things, but today showed it won’t be a quick fix.
Bobby Burns struggled on return to starting eleven
Bobby Burns’ last start for Hearts was all the way back in July, when Craig Levein’s men only managed a 1-1 draw with Raith Rovers in the League Cup. After making his return against Rangers midweek, he was thrust into action from the off in the derby and it proved to be a chastening experience. In the unfamiliar position of full back, and up against the pace and trickery of Daryl Horgan, Burns struggled throughout.
Horgan’s advances down the right flank were Hibs’ only sign of attacking intent in the opening half hour of this afternoon’s fixture, clearly fancying his chances against an opponent whose last start had come in December on loan at Livingston. And it was Horgan that brought the visitors level after Haring had broken the deadlock for Hearts, keeping enough space between himself and Burns to slide Marc McNulty’s cross past Zdenek Zlamal.
Horgan bested Burns again for second goal. The Hibs winger started and finished a flowing move, leaving the Hearts man trailing in his wake. It was to be the telling factor in an otherwise close encounter.
Hearts’ season will now be defined by the Scottish Cup
After all of the promise, Hearts’ season will now be defined by one fixture.
In the wake of this loss which surely blows any hope of finishing in the top three, next Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle is Hearts’ final chance to rescue the campaign.
Win - and then win again in the final - and the slump which has seen them fall from legitimate title challengers to also-rans in the league will be forgotten. Lose and a season that promised so much will end with discontent and disappointment. A defeat to the Championship side will also heap pressure on Craig Levein.
The early months of the season - when the manager was riding a wave of positivity and his pre- and post-match interviews were treated with the glee - seem a long time ago, with the Tynecastle faithful growing increasingly frustrated with him. An exit from the cup and the pressure will build further.
The rare joy of an entertaining Edinburgh derby
It doesn’t happen often these days so it’s worth pointing out that this was an Edinburgh derby which lived up to the billing. Horgan’s second goal aside it wasn’t a game of high quality, but there was plenty to capture the attention.
Seven of the previous ten derbies had finished either goalless or had been settled by a solitary goal, so the three this afternoon seemed almost extravagant. In fact, there could have been more. Hearts especially wasted a host of presentable opportunities, most of which seemed to fly high over Ofir Marciano’s crossbar. There were a number of controversial decisions too, with Marc McNulty perhaps lucky to escape a red card for a studs-up challenge in the first half.
With one more derby to come this term, hopefully this is the start of an exciting run of contests.