HE IS the former Hearts player forever associated with the phrase “it is never over until the fat striker scores”. But John Robertson watched in awe on Sunday as a powerful Turkish defender broke Hibs’ resolve by roaming forward to score from fully 40 yards in stoppage time.
The stunning goal wrenched something precious from a derby that had looked to be beyond Hearts. This was once Robertson’s trick, though he admits it was usually from somewhat closer in. Was Alim Ozturk’s goal the best he had seen in an Edinburgh derby match?
“Listen, there have been a lot of good strikes,” said Robertson, who turned 50 earlier this month. “John Colquhoun had two or three outrageous strikes in derbies, where he has lobbed keepers from 30 to 40 yards as well. But that is as clean a strike as you will see.
“People talk about volleying being the hardest technical aspect of the game and it is, no doubt. But he [Ozturk] was running on and he had no right to hit it from there. I’d like to know the pace it was going at. But from 40 yards to beat a keeper off the underside of the bar takes something special.”
Given that he struck over 200 times in two spells for the Tynecastle club, including a record 27 goals in derby games alone, we can be confident that Robertson knows a thing or two about scoring. So his thoughts on the subject of Ozturk’s wonder strike – had he meant it, for example? – were eagerly sought yesterday.
Alan Stubbs was understandably sickened at seeing Hibs’ hopes of picking up three points evaporate, particularly at such a late stage in a game where his side had dominated. The Easter Road manager not only branded the goal a fluke, but also questioned why Hearts had felt the need to celebrate so wildly.
Robertson made the reasonable point yesterday that if you cannot celebrate a point-saving goal from 40 yards out in injury time in a game against your fiercest rivals, then when can you celebrate?
Not only this, but there was the added bonus of the strike having preserved Hearts’ unbeaten record in the league this season, and keeping them well placed at the summit.
“I know Alan is a wee bit upset with what he feels was Hearts showing no class after the game,” said Robertson.
“But you are down to ten men, you have scored in the second minute of injury time and you have scored with a 40-yard wonder goal to stay top of the league and also unbeaten – are you not supposed to celebrate it?”
Robertson certainly did, joining in the celebrations with those who were watching the game on television in the Gorgie Suite at Tynecastle. The scenes were as crazy there as behind the goal at Easter Road, where the Hearts fans surged forward to celebrate a goal that had appeared from nowhere.
Robertson admits that, in common with almost all Hearts’ coaching staff and supporters, his first reaction when he saw Ozturk drawing back his foot was: “Don’t shoot!”
“I think everyone was thinking the same – it is too far out,” he said. “You are thinking: can he slide someone in? Can he pass?
“Look at YouTube and his goals for his previous team are all rakers from 30-odd yards. It is not outwith his capability. He has it in his locker. But at that time you are thinking, as Alan Stubbs says, it has perhaps a one in a hundred chance of going in. It just so happens for Hearts that this was the one.
“There are always going to be celebrations,” Robertson added. “And there were celebrations in the Gorgie Suite, just like at the game. Had the shoe been on the other foot, the Hibs fans would have reacted in exactly the same way.
“They have done it before – in my time they have come back from 2-0 down in the last few minutes to get it to 2-2 and celebrated wildly, and rightly so. That is what derbies are about.”
It is, though, apparent that Hearts appear to be slightly more adept at rescuing games at the death than Hibs, who have had to cope, Robertson agrees, with some rotten luck in recent times.
But then you have to make your own luck. And Hearts have been doing that in derby encounters, he argues, since the arrival of Alex MacDonald and Sandy Jardine in the early 1980s. The template has been inherited by future generations.
“You can talk about luck to a certain degree,” said Robertson. “Hibs against Dumbarton had a penalty that looked like it had crossed the line but is clawed back and Hearts hit the exact same kind of penalty a week later versus the same team and this time it goes over the line. Then Ozturk’s shot hits the underside of the bar and goes in and Leigh Griffiths’ free kick [last season] goes over the line and comes out. That seems to be the way it has been going for Hibs.
“When Alex MacDonald arrived as manager, he and Sandy Jardine instilled a certain belief of how to approach and play in the derbies,” he added. “Without giving too much away, they looked at our attitude and thought process in these games – and it worked. We had 17 [unbeaten] games in a row, then 22 in a row.
“If you look at Hearts’ record over the last 32 years, it’s frightening how far ahead we are in derby wins.
“In a lot of those games, Hibs have mostly played the better football at times. But Hearts have won the games. There is a mentality at the club. Alex and Sandy had a certain mentality on how to approach and what we had to do to make sure we won the game. We went on those historic runs and that’s how it was done.
“Since then, you’ve had guys like Sandy Clark, Jim Jefferies and Craig Levein in charge of the club at certain points. It was always passed on.”
TEN STUNNING DERBY GOALS
6 Jan 1987, Hibs 2, Hearts 2
Four goals were scored in a frenetic opening half, John Colquhoun netting a brace in between George McCluskey and Michael Weir scoring for the hosts. But it was Colquhoun’s second to give the visitors the lead that really caught the eye with a 25-yard volley that flew past Alan Rough into the top right-hand corner.
20 Feb 1994, Hibs 1, Hearts 2
Wayne Foster endeared himself to the Hearts fans with a late winner in a Scottish Cup fourth-round tie to send Hibs tumbling out with just minutes to spare. Against the run of play, he ran from the halfway line and placed the ball beyond Jim Leighton.
1 Jan 1996, Hibs 2, Hearts 1
Neil Pointon had Hearts ahead after just seven minutes but Michael O’Neill equalised for Hibs with a neat header on the half hour mark. But it was Kevin Harper’s superb volley four minutes before the interval that won it for Alex Miller’s side.
11 April 1998, Hibs 2, Hearts 1
Despite a derby day victory, the season ended in gloom for Hibs as they were relegated a month later. They had gone ahead through Barry Lavety’s fine finish and despite Kevin Harper giving Alex McLeish victory in his first derby as Hibs boss, the game was also noteworthy for the hammer of Hibs, John Robertson, netting the final one of his 27 goals against the men in green and white. Robbo equalised with a 25-yard
free-kick that curled past
Bryan Gunn and into the top corner.
19 Dec 1999, Hearts 0, Hibs 3
A pre-Christmas gift for all Hibs supporters as Alex McLeish’s men dismantled Hearts on their home patch. Dirk Lehmann opened the scoring but it was French favourite Franck Sauzee whose low piledriver past Hearts debutant goalkeeper Antti Niemi that Hibs fans cherish to this day. A youthful Kenny Miller added a third.
22 Oct 2000, Hibs 6, Hearts 2
A night Hibs fans will savour for the rest of their days. Andy Kirk had put Hearts ahead but a rampant Hibs side fought back through goals from Mixu Paatelainen, who scored a hat-trick, David Zitelli and John O’Neil. But it was the Easter Road’s sixth that really stole the show – the outstanding Russell Latapy playing a neat one-two before smashing a dipping volley past Niemi.
15 Feb 2004, Hibs 1, Hearts 1
Derek Riordan wasn’t shy of having a go whenever he played against Hearts and his opener on this particular Sunday afternoon hit the heights as he drilled a 30-yard shot high beyond the despairing Craig Gordon to give Hibs a first-half lead. However, Steven Pressley equalised for Hearts.
26 Dec 2006, Hearts 3, Hibs 2
The home side raced into a 2-0 lead courtesy of Paul Hartley and Edgaras Jankauskas before Hibs hit back to draw level through Chris Killen and a Dean Shiels penalty. However, Saulius Mikoliunas had other ideas as he curled in a wonderful left-footed effort from the edge of the area to give Hearts the bragging rights.
12 May 2013, Hearts 1, Hibs 2
Darren Barr had given the hosts the lead right on the stroke of half-time but Leigh Griffiths did what he does best and produced a magnificent equaliser from a free kick 30 yards out three minutes after the break. Ross Caldwell then struck at the death to send the Hibs supporters behind the goal into raptures.
30 Oct 2013, Hibs 0, Hearts 1
Administration-hit Hearts were battling to stave off liquidation last season, but they gave their fans a boost by putting one over their city rivals to send them crashing out of the League Cup as Ryan Stevenson’s superb strike from 25 yards flashed past Ben Williams for the only goal of the game.