Forget Paris St Germain v Chelsea. Or any other over-hyped Champions League spectacle Uefa seem to want to bully people into caring about.
Easter Road proved what you always suspected would be the case. It was the only place to be as Hibs secured a home Scottish Cup quarter-final tie with holders Inverness Caledonian Thistle after a narrow win over their fiercest rivals in a pulsating contest decided by Jason Cummings’ early strike.
Even Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane was drawn to the east end of Edinburgh, as was Judy Murray. Keane will have sneered at the innocuous reasons for the red cards doled out to Blazej Augustyn and Cummings in the second-half.
Already booked, the pair saw red within two minutes of each other for dissent, the former for throwing and the latter for kicking the ball away.
Cummings was both hero and villain, missing chances as well as scoring what proved to be the winner. The booking he picked up for goading the visiting supporters following his fourth-minute goal later proved significant. Fortunately for him, the red card he earned after 78 minutes was not fatally damaging for his side. Augustyn’s, two minutes earlier, was hardly helpful for his.
Nearly 20,000 crammed into the ground in what was a first sold-out game at Easter Road for two years. It was also the first Edinburgh derby to escape the live television treatment in a decade, which seemed to add to the intensity. Hibs began friskily, as expected. It may have been part of Hearts’ plan to seek to draw the sting from the opposition by weathering the storm. If so, they failed. Hibs were ahead after only four minutes.
They should have been two in front after 11, leaving Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson to wonder about his decision to re-shape his defence to the extent that Igor Rossi started at left-back, with Jordan McGhee resuming centre-half duties. But Hearts did eventually settle following Hibs’ whirlwind start, imposing their top-tier status to more obvious effect in the second-half before an act of ridiculous stupidity from Augustyn saw his side briefly disadvantaged numerically. Already booked, Augustyn slammed the ball down in disgust after a decision from John Beaton, almost inviting the referee to act. The defender was fortunate that Cummings failed to heed this warning; the striker was sent off for a second bookable offence two minutes later after kicking the ball away.
But he had already done enough. Cummings’ opening goal was a trademark finish from the striker who, despite his sweep of blond hair, can still seem to ghost in undetected at the edge of the six-yard box.
After exchanging passes with Kevin Thomson at the edge of the penalty area, David Gray was the architect with a cross which curled into Cummings’ path with such precision that a striker like him could barely miss.
His own Hearts past meant an emotional outpouring was always likely to follow. Cummings left the pitch to celebrate in front of those visiting fans who had endured the extra ignominy of seeing the goal scored under their noses.
Cummings should have profited once more from the good work of his team-mates minutes later. This time Anthony Stokes and Liam Henderson were involved, with the former playing in the latter with an elegant reverse pass. Henderson prodded the ball into the path of Cummings, who was left with only the goalkeeper to beat and, perhaps, too much time in which to think about it.
The striker elected to take too many touches and allowed Neil Alexander to get his foot to the ball, deflecting it for a corner. Even so early in the game, it felt like a potentially defining moment, particularly when Abiola Dauda headed home what nearly everyone in the stadium thought was an equaliser shortly afterwards, after McGhee’s clever cross.
A delayed offside flag from far-side assistant referee Andrew McWilliam brought a huge sigh of relief from three sides of the stadium and left the Hearts fans deflated. But the visiting contingent knew it could have been worse, far worse, at half-time. Indeed, the one goal by which they trailed seemed an acceptable outcome given their undistinguished start.
Stokes should have done better than scuff an effort towards Alexander when set up well by Cummings. As for Hearts, a drive which slipped past Mark Oxley’s left-hand post was the nearest they came after Dauda’s effort.
But playing towards their own fans in the second-half, Hearts managed to change the course of the game somewhat. It was Hibs doing the defending rather than the visitors, it was they who were being given cause to fret as Sam Nicholson replaced the already booked Miguel Pallardo before the hour mark, to further increase Hearts’ threat.
Oxley was booked for time-wasting after only 67 minutes to give some indication of how the dynamic had changed. Hearts had just seen another goal disallowed for offside after Juanma bundled the ball into the net.
The same player should have scored moments earlier after Paterson’s cross from the right. The Spanish striker only needed to belly-flop the ball over the line but failed to the make any connection, and will rue this failure, as will Paterson who came close to directing the ball in at the near
post in the dying moments of added time.
With no TV schedules to think about, it didn’t matter. And neither did they prove damaging to Hibs, who prevailed, and, indeed, should have scored a second through substitute James Keatings, another former Hearts player.
HIBERNIAN: Oxley, Gray, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson, Bartley, Henderson (Boyle 88),Thomson (Carmichael 69), McGinn, Stokes (Keatings 90), Cummings. Subs not used: Fontaine, Gunnarsson,
HEARTS: Alexander, Paterson, Augustyn, Rossi (Souttar 77), McGhee, Cowie, Djoum, Pallardo (Nicholson 59), Walker (Zanatta 84), Dauda, Delgado. Subs not used: Hamilton, Oshaniwa, Reilly, Beith.
THE SCOTSMAN ON SOCIAL MEDIA