Hearts 2 - 0 Hibernian: Hearts make it ten derbies unbeaten

HEARTS have experienced their fair share of ups and downs both on and off the pitch this season, but one aspect of life at the club has remained constant: their ability to get the better of their Edinburgh rivals.

Yesterday’s win was the same score as the first derby at Tynecastle, and the same margin as the New Year game, when they were 3-1 victors at Easter Road. Indeed, not only the scores but the patterns of the games have been so similar that, if you watched recordings of them back to back, it would be easy to conclude they had been played on consecutive days.

Hibs have not been swept away by irresistible force in this season’s derbies, as they have been at times in recent years. Nor have they been undone by the goalkeeping gaffes which once plagued them in the fixture. Instead, they have simply been second best in the factors which determine the vast majority of games: talent and teamwork.

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Pat Fenlon has changed the bulk of his team since January, and six of his players were making their derby debuts. They have been inching their way clear of Dunfermline at the bottom of the table, but the improvement has been a modest one.

James McPake has provided some solidity at centre-back, and Pa Kujabi had a useful outing at left-back, but collectively this new-look team are only a little better than the one they replaced. Jorge Claros, for instance, has shown touches of undoubted pedigree, but the man whose nickname is Pitbull was more like a Pekinese in this game, being outclassed by Ian Black.

The Hearts midfielder was the dominant figure at New Year and was again a critical influence here, taking charge of midfield despite the absence through injury of his usual anchorman, Adrian Mrowiec. Without the Pole, Hearts had an unbalanced look in the middle, with Rudi Skacel, Mehdi Taouil and Andrew Driver making up the quartet. But, while those three were among the home team’s less significant performers, Black was still able to run the show.

Perhaps more importantly, the one addition Paulo Sergio has been allowed to make to his squad in the last couple of months made a more positive contribution than all Hibs’ newcomers put together. Craig Beattie is still not at full match fitness, but he added a goal here to the one he scored in the Scottish Cup against St Mirren last week, and was as big a threat in the air as on the ground. The striker and Black combined for that goal, which came at the end of a half-hour during which Hearts had steadily imposed their superiority on their opponents. When Hibs lost possession from their own throw-in on the left, Black cleverly made space for himself by breaking free of Claros, and resisted the temptation of a short pass inside where several team-mates were in support.

Instead, spying Beattie’s run, he sent an excellent crossfield ball into the path of the striker, who had got the wrong side of Matthew Doherty. Beattie cushioned the ball expertly with his first touch, and, from around 12 yards out, rolled it past Graham Stack with his second.

The lead was no more than Hearts had deserved as Andy Webster and Danny Grainger had both seen efforts saved.

A couple of accidental clashes, one before and one after that goal, had forced both teams into changes. Skacel and George Francomb both needed treatment after their heads knocked together in the air, and although the Czech was able to play on, the Hibs full-back was soon replaced by Doherty. Then, just before half-time, Stephen Elliott ran into Stack. Both went down, but it was the Hearts man who came off worse, and hobbled off with a hip knock a couple of minutes before the break.

It forced Hearts to change their shape, with Scott Robinson coming off the bench into midfield and Skacel adopting a supporting role just behind Beattie. Fenlon had made a positional change of his own at the start of the second half, switching Tom Soares from right to left, with David Wotherspoon moving in the opposite direction. A free-kick from the latter that was palmed clear by MacDonald was the first attempt on goal of the half, and for a time Soares was also a threat as he had more joy against Jamie Hamill than he had had against Grainger.

Another Wotherspoon free-kick was headed goalwards by Doherty, but with MacDonald beaten, Beattie was in good position to clear off the line. Roy O’Donovan then tested the goalkeeper with a header from a Griffiths cross, but MacDonald managed to block it. By that time Garry O’Connor had come off the bench, replacing Wotherspoon while O’Donovan fell back to midfield. But the striker did little, and his fellow-substitute Eoin Doyle, on for the last ten minutes or so, did even less.

Ryan McGowan came on for Black at the same time as Doyle’s introduction, but it was the final change of the day which made the most impact. The 90 minutes were at an end when Suso Santana came on, and three minutes of the four added on had been played when he ran on to a ball out on the left. The predictable thing to do would have been to drift wide and run the clock down, but instead the little Spaniard beetled into the box, evaded a couple of would-be tacklers, and coolly netted with Stack helpless. For the home support it made for a delirious end to the game. For the away fans, who were present in far fewer numbers than usual, it was just another reminder, as if any more were needed, of Hearts’ superiority this season.