Hibs 1-1 Hearts: Uche Ikpeazu rescues point for Jambos to end losing streak
The Easter Road side had eventually produced the goal that reflected their initial second-half dominance after Daryl Horgan’s cross cum shot was deflected in by Christophe Berra.
Yet somehow the hosts finished the match hanging on after Uche Ikpeazu struck an equaliser with six minutes of normal time left. When Hearts later won a free kick in stoppage time Craig Levein waved his big men forward in the hope of snatching the win Hearts needed to draw level on points with their rivals.
They had already come close to taking an unlikely lead in outrageous style. Ikpeazu risked shaking the nearby Edinburgh castle’s foundations on landing having flipped himself up into the air to execute a near-perfect overhead kick that Ofir Marciano was happy to tip over.
In the event, Hearts will consider this point well-earned. It still meant Levein and his players were able to lap up the applause from the away fans at the end after stemming a three-game losing sequence in the league. Hearts have not tasted victory on league duty since beating Aberdeen in March but this come-from-behind draw contained all the recognisable properties of an uplifting win.
Hibs had themselves done well to avoid letting deflation hinder their endeavours after a penalty miss from Marc McNulty on the hour mark after Paul Hanlon was impeded by Ikpeazu.
To their credit, Hibs did not panic. They simply continued doing what they had been doing during this section of the match, which was placing the visitors under intense pressure.
They scored nine minutes later after David Gray played in Horgan, who cut the ball back towards the goal. ConorShaughnessy should have blocked and while Berra at least made an effort, the ball spun off him and crept in at the far post. Few could argue Hibs were not worth at least this lead.
Of course, the narrow nature of it meant they remained vulnerable. It just didn’t seem at this stage as though Hearts would be capable of summoning a response. Ikpeazu looked like he had run his race and in fact Steven MacLean was preparing to come on, possibly as his replacement, when Hibs scored. Ikpeazu was beginning to toil with a hurt knee but he convinced Levein he had a second wind left in him and while MacLean did eventually make an effective cameo, his strike partner stayed on to equalise from his assist.
Ikpeazu ran towards the dugouts to celebrate this latest strike - his eighth of a season severely interrupted by injury and fourth in his last seven appearances. While Levein might understandably have been braced for 16-and a-half stone of muscle landing into his arms, the striker chose not to show his appreciation towards his supportive manager on this occasion.
Instead, he performed a small jig in front of the home dugout while signalling towards the home fans. He was clearly emotional after being passed fit to play on the morning of the game and having conceded the earlier penalty.
Hearts’ date at Hampden next month means every personnel change seems loaded with potential significance. Harry Cochrane came in for his first start since while fellow 17-year-old Conor Smith was handed his full debut playing off Ikpeazu. Both teenagers made telling contributions. There was even a second-half substitute appearance from the once-exiled Ryan Edwards who made a very belated debut eight months after signing from Partick Thistle and via a loan spell at St Mirren.
The opening half was certainly more like it from Hearts in what was an unusually open Edinburgh derby. It was the more expansive football many of their fans have been crying out for.
Jake Mulraney almost scored one of the goals of the season a couple of minutes before half-time after being released by an exquisite touch on the touchline from Conor Smith. The winger slalomed past a series of Hibs defenders before seeing Ofir Marciano beat away his shot.
Illustrating the end-to-end nature of the game at this stage Hibs still came close to snatching an interval lead. Lewis Stevenson’s shot almost caught out Zlamal and John Souttar cleared McNulty’s cross off the line as Hibs players waited to pounce. The home side also came close when Horgan’s stabbed shot following Stephane Omeonga’s cut-back landed on the roof of the net.
Heckingbottom brought on Vykintas Slivka at half-time for the ineffective Florian Kamberi and Hibs adapted to the changes necessary when bringing on a midfielder for a striker while Hearts stuck to their three-at-the-back system. The Lithuanian substitute should have put Hibs ahead when he was left with a free header on the edge of the six-yard box after a cross from Stevenson. Slivka’s effort was too direct and he allowed Zlamal to make a good block.
But the Hibs pressure was becoming relentless. The award of a penalty after Ikpeazu felled Berra when the defender came in on his blind side seemed set to provide what the home fans wanted – a reward for what was, at this stage, one-way traffic. McNulty ill-advisedly chose to seek to burst the net from the spot but instead saw the ball whack off an advertising board.
But Zlamal was soon beaten by his own player. Berra’s misfortune had Hibs contemplating successive derby victories in the space of three weeks. Ikpeazu expended his last drops of energy to ensure this was not to be and was in the right place at the right time to sweep MacLean’s cut-back into the net from around 16 yards.