No one comes to an Edinburgh derby expecting to be charmed by its sophistication. This was as poor a spectacle as anything served up both these two sides in recent times.
Sadly for the errant officials, or at least one in particular, this meant Hibs’ ghost goal, scored by teenager Oli Shaw early in a game that produced barely another scoring chance, accumulated even greater relevance.
Hibs will feel they earned a moral victory on account of Shaw’s goal not counting. Assistant referee Sean Carr judged the ball had not crossed the line once it had bounced down off the crossbar when it did – and then some.
This incident was early in the match. But, on reflection, following all 95 minutes – referee Steven McLean compounded Carr’s mistake by playing five minutes of injury time which were as awful as the previous 90 – the goal was probably deserved by Hibs as well as valid. However, neither team warranted too much sympathy on account of their collusion in such a dire match.
Once they processed their anger at having been denied a goal, Hibs will feel satisfied at having prolonged their unbeaten run against their rivals. It now stands at nine matches, with this being their fourth draw in succession at Tynecastle.
Intensity is taken as read in these games. But judging by how they started Hibs seemed especially desperate not to surrender their unbeaten record over recent seasons. This motivation appeared to trump Hearts’ own desperation to finally record another victory after eight games and three-and-a-half long years.
No discussion of the match can fail to record the impact of the failure to award Hibs’ perfectly good goal after seven minutes. It was particularly wounding for Shaw, whose clever flick from Martin Boyle’s cross came down off the bar and bounced a yard down over the line. Much has been made of Hearts’ teenagers of late, but it was the Hibs youngster, only 19 and still buoyed by having scored a winner four days earlier over Ross County, who was robbed of another moment to treasure.
Carr kept his flag down as Jon McLaughlin reached behind him and clawed the ball back, his optimism rewarded by the official’s error. Television repeats are a theme of Christmas and these replays will be as unwelcome if you happen to be Carr.
Lennon quickly learned just how far over the ball had been. In truth, it seemed obvious enough from seats in the main stand. The Hibs manager gestured towards the directors’ box like a proud angler relaying the deeds of a recent prize catch as he sought to emphasise the distance by which the ball crossed the line.
An aggrieved Lennon had to be spoken to by referee Steven McLean shortly afterwards. The Hibs manager, back in a place and in a specific area with dark associations for him, showed impressive good humour towards the end of the half after reacting to Paul Hanlon’s decision to go for goal rather than head back across the six-yard box with an anguished scream: “Why did he do that?!” The cry from behind the dug-out brought a smile from Lennon: “Because he’s sh*te!”
There was precious else to report in a first half where football seemed an after-thought. It was more reason, from a neutral’s point of view, to lament the one genuine move of quality resulting in a goal that never was. McGinn sprayed a ball wide to Boyle who managed to get beyond Jamie Brandon, something he did not manage enough, before crossing for Shaw. The rest is now only pointless bar- room discussion.
On such a physically demanding night, Levein felt it was the place for just one teenager – Brandon started at left-back for the third successive game. Of their other starlets recently given playing time, Anthony McDonald looked on from the bench, the suspended Harry Cochrane from the stand.
McGinn spoke in the days prior to the match of finding that he’s becoming a marked man. He was involved in some early jousts with Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Walker – indeed the latter was booked after one late challenge on the midfielder. But, perhaps surprisingly, it was Lewis Stevenson who seemed to bear the brunt of the most obviously rough attention. Both Lafferty and David Milinkovic were cautioned for late tackles on the wing-back.
Whatever football was played, and there was not a lot, came from the visitors. Walker did lift a shot over the bar early in the game. Lafferty sclaffed an effort wide from a good position after being found by Walker shortly after half-time. He will know he should have scored.
Lennon responded to a sustained period of Hearts’ pressure by replacing Shaw with Simon Murray and then Boyle with Brandon Barker. As someone remarked as Shaw left the field: “He took his goal well.”
The Hibs manager then replaced Barker, who quickly sustained a knock, with striker Deivydas Matulevicius, who has been told he can leave Easter Road, coming on.
But it was no surprise that a match so lacking in imagination and verve failed to conjure up such an obvious potential storyline as a Lithuanian coming in from the cold to score the winner.
HEARTS: McLaughlin, Randall (Hughes 49), Souttar, Berra, Brandon,, Cowie, Buaben, Milinkovic (Callachan 83), Walker, Goncalves, Lafferty. Subs not used: Hamilton,Stockton, Grzelak, Henderson, McDonald.
HIBERNIAN: Marciano, Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon, Boyle (Barker 74), McGeouch, Bartley, McGinn, Stevenson, Stokes, Shaw (Simon Murray 72), Barker (Matulevicius 86). Subs not used: Swanson, Gray, Slivka, Dabrowski.
Referee: Steven McLean. Attendance: 19,316