Hearts 2-1 Hibs: Naismith ends Hibs’ hopes of second place

Steven Naismith celebrates scoring the winner. Picture: SNS Group
Steven Naismith celebrates scoring the winner. Picture: SNS Group
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For all the mind the gap digs that have been directed at Hearts this term by their city rivals, the Gorgie side still managed to inflict suffering on them.

Heralded as big-game players, on a night when Hearts were desperate to send their fans home happy, in the final game of the season, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith delivered, leaving Hibs out of contention for second place in the Premiership and needing to beat Rangers by a hatful of goals on Sunday to even salvage third.

For Hearts there was only pride at stake.

But while points may be meaningless to them at this late stage of the season, with their finishing position already set in stone, even just as share of the spoils was vitally important to rivals Hibs.

Heading into the final two games Neil Lennon’s men knew that a minimum of four points were required if they were to fulfil their ambition of finishing second in their first term back in the Premiership.

Anything less would leave them with one heck of a battling for third place and the last of the automatic European qualifying places on Sunday.

With only one defeat in the past 11 capital derbies the belief was high, amongst the players and the fans.

A beach ball was passed around the away end as the sides emerged from the tunnel, a symbol of the foreign trips they were already anticipating.

But Hearts have proved party poopers before. Only a matter of a few years ago, the away support turned up expecting a celebration, confident that they could get the win needed to relegate their neighbours.

They failed and although Hearts did ultimately go down, that result contributed to Hibs joining them.

So while Hibs have ended the season well ahead of Craig Levein’s men, in one-off tussles, at Tynecastle, the home advantage remained just that last night.

It is five years since the Easter Road side last won in Gorgie and that victory, in May 2013, is the only one in the past 16 head to heads there.

This was another hard-fought triumph as they broke up Hibs’ play and out fought them all over the pitch.

Absent of the usual rhythm, the Leith side were unable to gain control of proceedings and thrive on the passing play and sweeping moves that have proved the undoing of so many team this term.

Instead, young Harry Cochrane pulling the strings in the middle of the park, where Lennon’s men have been so strong this season.

It was Lafferty and Naismith who combined for the opening goal, although the Hibs defence will be unhappy with the part they played in it.

Lewis Stevenson was seemingly unaware of the Northern Ireland striker at his back as he failed to clear Naismith’s cross into the box and although Paul Hanlon tried to react he was too slow to deny Lafferty his shot as he stabbed a right-foot shot past Ofir Marciano.

Hibs got back into the game just three minutes after the break. Joaquim Adao slipped as he tried to clear and struggling to make amends he upended Stevenson as he burst onto the ball and the referee pointed to the spot.

Jamie Maclaren missed a penalty on Saturday but, with the Australian on the bench, there was no opportunity for him to redeem himself and instead Florian Kamberi took on the role and was more clinical.

Levelling the score, second place was back on the table.

But having been told there were irrelevant after the last derby match, Hearts were determined to prove they were anything but and regained the lead in the 57th minute after Hanlon had felled Lafferty.

Teenager Cochrane took the set play and as he zipped it in, it was the experienced Naismith who got a touch on it to direct it past the helpless Marciano.

Back in front there was little chance of they conceding anything to their guest and were defensively solid, repelling every attack.

Hibs were hampered by the early departure of Martin Boyle, leaving Brandon Barker as the main attacking outlet and he was well marshalled by a dogged and shrewd Michael Smith.

After a long slog and admirable season, it all seemed just a few games too far for Lennon’s men as their hopes of second place ebbed away and nerves took over. They ran up against a brick wall and out of ideas and while they threw everything at it, with Lennon sending on striker Maclaren fro defender Hanlon and then pushing Darren McGregor up front in the latter stages as well as they tried to salvage something - anything. But, in need of one more point to secure the club’s best ever points haul, it was Hearts who had the biggest point to prove and on the night, they did that and more and whlle there was a stunned look of disbelief at the final whistle as the away section tried to absorb the ramifications, the home fans lauded their heroes as they completed their lap of honour.