MAN OF THE MATCH
The reality is that they became more dominant the longer the game went on, should have had the game wrapped up some time before their second goal, and on another day would have scored another couple.
Paulo Sergio’s team were not at the top of their game, but they did not have to be against opponents who were short of ideas and self-belief. The Hearts manager had insisted his team keep their heads rather than getting caught up in the emotion of the occasion, and his message was reflected in the bookings count: Ryan Stevenson was the only home player to receive a yellow card compared with five Hibs men.
Another referee might have shown the Hearts midfielder a straight red card for a lunge at Ian Murray, while Garry O’Connor and Akpo Sodje could also have been dismissed for a trip on Jamie Hamill and a reckless challenge on Marian Kello respectively.
After a slow start to the season, Hearts are now up to fourth in the table, albeit ahead of two other clubs only on goal difference.
Hibs are bottom, and with the international break coming up now have a fortnight in which to contemplate their plight.
Both managers changed more than half their starting line-ups from midweek, with Sergio retaining only three players who had begun the draw with Tottenham Hotspur, and Colin Calderwood keeping five of the men from the easy win over Berwick Rangers.
The lack of coherent teamwork during the opening stages of the match may have had something to do with the scale of those alterations, although the compulsively frenetic pace of the contest was also to blame.
Wayward shots from Ian Black and Isaiah Osbourne were the closest to a goal threat in the opening 20 minutes, although defensive lapses from both Paul Hanlon and Marius Zaliukas suggested that better scoring opportunities would in time present themselves to both sides.
Nonetheless, we had entered the last ten minutes of the half before a true scoring chance was created – and when it was, by a clever cross from Sproule, O’Connor could not get his header on target.
Hearts had not been the better team by much up to that point, but they made their superiority count six minutes before the break, when Matt Thornhill slipped up and was dispossessed by Ian Black on the right.
The midfielder passed the ball out to Jamie Hamill, who crossed low for Ryan Stevenson to shoot home first-time from eight yards. Six Hibs outfield players had got back into the box by the time Hamill delivered his cross, but not one was alert to the danger presented by the goalscorer’s late run.
Thornhill had a chance to make amends barely two minutes later after a mix-up in the Hearts defence gifted him the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box, but he steered his shot wide.
That attempt at a fightback was continued in a five-minute spell at the start of the second half which was Hibs’ best of the match, but from then on Hearts turned the screw as they went in search of a second goal.
Stack became the busiest man on the pitch for a while, saving a shot from Stephen Elliott, then shortly after that watching helpless as another shot from the Irishman rebounded off to Driver. The winger looked sure to score, but Stack stuck out a foot to save.
Then, following a run down the right, Hamill shot straight at Stack when two men were clear inside him.
Leigh Griffiths came on to make his debut for Hibs, and was booked a couple of minutes later for a foul on Hamill.
An injury to David Obua brought Eggert Jonsson on for Hearts, and the Icelander made a more positive impact than Griffiths, being credited with his team’s second goal.
After a mistake by Paul Hanlon had forced Stack to concede a corner, taken by Hamill, Andy Webster headed powerfully towards goal.
Standing on the goal-line, Sodje - falling backwards behind the goalline - cleared, and as the centre-half claimed that the ball had crossed the line, Jonsson hammered it into the net.
Replays showed that Webster’s appeal had been correct, and the dubious-goals panel will surely confirm that assessment.
With around half an hour still to play, Hearts looked vulnerable at the back from time to time, with Kello unusually shaky under the high ball. On the whole though, a third goal from them seemed more plausible than one from Hibs, and with time running out Driver shot wide on the break when cutting inside Richie Towell would have set up a better position.
Injured in the aerial challenge which led to Sodje’s booking, Kello had to go off for the last five minutes of normal time.
Hibs huffed and puffed thereafter in a bid to grab one goal back at least, but the bookings count was an indication of their frustration, and the reality was that they deserved nothing from a game in which they contributed little that was positive
Hearts: Kello (MacDonald 84), Hamill, Webster, Zaliukas, Grainger, Driver, Mrowiec, Black, Stevenson (Novikovas 82), Obua (Jonsson 62), Elliott. Subs not used: Templeton, Skacel, Smith, Robinson.
Hibernian: Stack, Towell, Hanlon, O’Hanlon, Booth, Sproule (Griffiths 58), Thornhill (Scott 82), Osbourne, Murray, Agogo (Sodje 58), O’Connor. Subs not used: Brown, Wotherspoon, Galbraith, Palsson.