They seem to be locked together for ever in Scottish Cup squabble and strife but Hearts won’t mind now that they’ve finally ejected their old rivals from the competition. Beaten two years in a row by Hibernian, their fans had approached the latest contest with some apprehension. By the end they were acclaiming a new hero of these contests.
Sixteen-year-old Harry Cochrane delivered the corner which produced the winner three minutes from the end of a typically frenetic tie but his contribution was much more than that. John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch don’t get eclipsed very often in the midfield but this lad shone brighter to send the Jambos into raptures.
Hibs can have no real complaints about their derby dominance – they had been undefeated in nine – coming to an end. Hearts were the better side, having matched customary Gorgie meanness in defence with the first glimpses of flair under manager Craig Levein, who danced a jig of joy at the end.
The pre-match chatter had been about who had made the best transfer-window signings and which team were the most physical. Hearts, who committed 21 fouls in the October derby and had three men booked in the first half-hour of last month’s contest, felt able to claim it was Hibs. Irritation at this unusual state of affairs reached the equivalent of “questions in the House” at Hearts’ recent agm: when was Levein going to stop the team being “bullied” by their rivals?
The Hearts boss, though, had dipped his hand in the transfer window and pulled out a plum in the shape of Steven Naismith, right, and even though the 45-cap Scottish international hadn’t played for five months he was pitched straight into the fray.
Hibs’ capture, the Australian striker Jamie Maclaren, was on the bench but there was no sign of Anthony Stokes, the fallen idol. Mercurial, maddening, he has game intelligence in abundance but rather less of it away from the pitch. His latest indiscretion looks like being his last act for the club.
It was almost a dream start for Naismith when in the fourth minute slick passing through the middle enabled David Milinkovic to find the new recruit who had made a trademark dart behind the backline. But after drawing Ofir Marciano he slipped his shot wide of the post.
Snow had fallen before kick-off and Hearts adapted quicker to the slippery, heavy conditions. McGinn, well-marked, was having trouble asserting himself. Young Cochrane was seeing to that and the Hearts midfield looked to be a more cohesive unit than in the 0-0 league derby at Christmas. After the early excitement involving Naismith there wasn’t another goalmouth incident for the next 20 minutes, Martin Boyle crossing low for Oli Shaw in almost a replica of the “ghost goal” incident from the previous game, the young frontman failing to get a touch this time.
Shaw turned provider a minute later when his cross was helped on by Vykintas Slivka to Boyle at the back post but the winger’s effort with his “wrong” foot was dismal and enraged manager Neil Lennon.
Hibs enjoyed a period in the ascendancy but Hearts came back with Milinkovic again providing from the edge of the box but Darren McGregor closed down Esmael Goncalves’ options. Then Efe Ambrose inadvertently set up Arnaud Djoum who shot over.
The game was fast – too fast at times for Slivka who was getting caught in possession. Hibs fans like to shout “Hoof!” when Hearts boot it long and high but both teams felt compelled to resort to the tactic. Back came Hibs as Boyle switched wings to cut it from the left, forcing Jon McLaughlin into a scrambling save.
Early in the second half, Efe Ambrose was scolded by Lennon for again ceding possession. The player nodded in acknowledgement, picked up the ball for a throw and promptly launched it straight to a Hearts man. Hibs averted the danger from this bizarre moment by conceding a free-kick, from which Naismith’s quick-thinking providing a chance for his fellow debutant, Demetri Mitchell. The on-loan Manchester United left-back missed out on that occasion but he would grow into the tie and become a big presence alongside Cochrane as Hearts began to dominate.
Cochrane’s coolness in the white-hot atmosphere was hugely impressive, as were Mitchell’s gallops up the left flank. Just before the hour he had a tremendous chance. A dinked Goncalves cross found Mitchell all alone at the back post. He struck his shot well but Marciano pulled off an astonishing save. Hibs had fallen out of the game so Lennon introduced Brandon Barker and Simon Murray.
The changes prompted the Leith team’s most promising ten minutes of the second period, the highlight of which was a thumping Boyle volley which McLaughlin tipped over. Back came Hearts and finally the breakthrough: Cochrane’s high, swinging corners had been a feature of his fine performance and in the 87th minute Christophe Berra nodded the last of them goalwards. Substitute Don Cowie stuck out a leg to help the ball towards the corner of the net and hard-pressed, despairing McGinn standing at the post couldn’t quite keep it out.