Martin Boyle leveller was a Hibs mood-lifter but Hearts showed they still hold derby upper hand

There was a moment, in time added on, when a ball was played over the top and Martin Boyle broke through Hearts’ backline.

It came to nothing, though, and it seemed that the fairytale homecoming was not going to materialise as swathes of fans headed for the exits.

But then, in a storyline straight out of Roy of the Rovers, according to his new gaffer, Lee Johnson, one more opportunity presented itself and, this time, the Australian international made it count, popping up in the right place, at the right time, to stab home the equaliser and prompt delirious celebrations in the stands and disappointing scenes on the pitch as exuberant fans spilled over the advertising boards.

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‘Our club’, ‘our passion’, ‘our city’ read the banners unfurled by Hibs punters in the East Stand as the players ran out. It was a bold boast considering the recent record between these sides.

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Before the teams emerged their prodigal son was given a warm welcome by the home support. He was the hero the last time Hibs overcame their city rivals.

But that was back in December 2019.

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And, while memories of that Boxing Day brace lifted the mood amongst the green and white army, who know just how badly the winger has been missed in the few months he has been in Saudi Arabia, it was his contribution late in the game that made the bigger impact.

It wasn’t enough to release Hearts’ grip on this fixture but it was enough to lift the mood in the ground.

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Hibs returnee Martin Boyle turns home his last-gasp equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Hearts at Easter Road. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Timing, in that regard, is everything.

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In the years since Boyle scored a double at Tynecastle, in 2019, the Leith side have not sampled victory. They have now tried and failed on seven occasions to get one over on their rivals and had this one been decided with 20 minutes to go, rather than five minutes into time added on, with literally seconds left on the clock, or if Hibs had been the side to relinquish the lead to end honours even, the natives might have been restless.

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Instead, having denied Hearts the larger scoreline advantage that their play probably deserved, they threw everything they could at their guests in the final minutes and, thanks to that Boyle goal, conjured a point from nothing.

Martin Boyle celebrates after his injury-time leveller. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
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In that regard it felt like a win for the home players and fans, who had been taunted by claims that Hibs were falling apart again by the Gorgie choir.

There was no doubting that Hearts had offered the greater quality throughout the preceding 94 minutes, they also enjoyed more control and fought for every ball, stretching to reach passes, hustling for possession and showing the strength of character to hold off Hibs players nipping at their heels. But, Hibs didn’t cave and with their second last gasp goal in as many games - last weekend they snatched victory over St Johnstone in stoppage time - they are showing a resilience that should serve them well and help them to build belief.

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There is still work to be done, though, to improve the calibre of the performances and a way to go before the bravery shown in the do or die decision-making of the new management team is reflected fully in their players.

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Lawrence Shankland celebrates his first-half opener for Hearts. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

While Hearts players stretched every sinew to reach loose balls, or make agile clearances off the line, Hibs remain too conservative when superb balls are fizzed across the goalmouth, as players try to get the decisive touch but stop short of chucking themselves at it, without any fear of getting hurt.

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What Hibs do have now, with the return of Boyle following his busman's holiday in Saudi Arabia, is pace, with Frenchman Elie Youan, who Johnson intends to mould into a No 9, Elias Melkersen and Jair Tavares, all rapid.

Youan used that attribute to fine effect in the 11th minute when a swift move from back to front saw Marijan Cabraja play a ball over into the path of the striker and his burst of pace allowed him to cut in and test Craig Gordon at his near post.

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But Hibs rarely got that kind of freedom in a frantic, combative match, where the little bits of real quality came from the men in maroon. Most notably with the opening goal.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson had switched to a back four for the journey across the city but, like last weekend, it took them time to click and find their groove.

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But, there was graft in the team while the usual intelligence of Liam Boyce and Barrie McKay shone through.

While set pieces were terrible - attacking rather than defending them - when they got the ball moving in open play, there was good link up between the front players, with Shankland emptying the tank and Alan Forrest weighing in.

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The 22 minute opener came from a beautifully-deft McKay pass over the defence that dropped perfectly for Shankland, whose first touch took him in on goal as he slotted his strike under David Marshall.

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There were suggestions of handball but in real time, it wasn’t obvious, and it was a lead Hearts merited.

They had to prevent a quick response from Hibs as Newell shot over and then Yohan was denied by a Gordon save.

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It was Hearts who passed up the greater chances, though. Keen to put the game beyond their hosts they started the second half brightly but Marshall pulled off a double save to deny Shankland and then McKay after Forrest had created the chance.

Hearts remained the more dangerous until Hibs decided to throw the kitchen sink, and Boyle at them, while also finishing with Ryan Porteous in the forward ranks.

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And the lack of a second goal proved costly as Roy of the Rovers wrote the ending to the tale. He couldn’t end the derby win drought but he salvaged some pride as well as a point.

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