Hearts 0 - 0 Hibernian: Huff and puff comes to nothing

IN THE closing seconds of the Edinburgh derby, Tynecastle rose as one in the pursuit of a penalty. It was some sight. Home fans screeching and roaring and banging hoardings at the sight of Jamie Mole going down in the box after a supposed coming-together with Graham Stack, the Hibs goalkeeper, followed by wholesale angst and anger when referee Steve Conroy failed to give them what they wanted. Conroy was right. No penalty.

No excitement either, not really. Save for a few hairy moments in the second half, featuring a quite brilliant save from Janos Balogh in the Hearts goal, this was about as tame as this fixture gets.

Hearts were physical and functional, but not much more than that. They gave every ounce of their energy and had players all over the park who worked like troopers, closing down the space, harrying Hibs, making it a battle, an ugly war of attrition. Michael Stewart led them well and made a point to the fans who booed him off the Tynecastle pitch last time out. He was all over the place, demanding things from his team-mates and driving them on.

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You felt a little sorry for Stewart. And for Csaba Laszlo. They're trying to create something here without the services of a single player who can put the ball in the opposition net with any kind of regularity. Their leading scorer in the SPL has two goals. Enough said.

They are disastrously devoid of cutting edge, not just a goal-scorer but a creative central midfielder also. Their great tactic was to lump it long and high into the Hibs box and hope for a break. The fact that Chris Hogg and Ian Murray were there to nut away pretty much everything that dropped in on top of them meant that Hearts could have played on for hours without getting a goal.

This was the third SPL game in a row where they have failed to score, where they have enjoyed chunks of possession and have hardly even looked like scoring, despite winning almost a dozen corners.

Hibs were a disappointment also, albeit with mitigating circumstances. Derek Riordan has been suffering with a twisted ankle – rumour has it he tripped over his pet dog – and only came on as substitute in the second half and there was no sign at all of Merouane Zemmama, who was absent with a dodgy groin. Colin Nish played up front on his own with Anthony Stokes wide on the left. The pair of them had miserable afternoons. Nish, especially. He had Jose Goncalves and Ismael Bouzid breathing down his neck all day and he hardly won a ball.

A point was about as much as John Hughes' team deserved and the manager admitted as much in the aftermath. He spent most of his day berating his players for giving possession away needlessly. Or as he put it in one outburst on the touchline: "Pass the f***ing ball!"

Hibs were not themselves yesterday, but then this was not your regular Edinburgh derby. Normally they are full of incident but the first half here passed by in a dreary blur. Hearts had plenty of huff and puff but no end product. Hibs didn't even have the huff and puff. They had good defenders and that was it.

A few opportunities went Hearts' way, from Stewart and Ian Black, from Andrew Driver and Arvydas Novikovas, the 18-year-old making his first start at Tynecastle, but none of them caused undue worry to Stack. Same old, same old for Laszlo. Another dj vu day for the Hearts manager.

It was only when Riordan made his belated arrival that Hibs began to create anything. Certainly, his appearance increased the temperature, his every stride being booed by a home support who'd have the Hibs winger pretty high on any "people we love to hate list" somewhere above Pol Pot and possibly a fraction behind Osama Bin Laden.

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Riordan started to have an influence soon enough, but before he did there was an outrageous passage of play that briefly elevated this game above the mundane.

It was down to David Wotherspoon in the first instance and Balogh in the second. Wotherspoon tore forward from his right-back channel midway through the second half and was allowed to make inroads into the Hearts half. Just as everybody was wondering what pass he was going to pick, he let fly with a thunderous drive that took a deflection off Nish's head on its way to goal. The goalkeeper flung himself away to his left and managed to tip it on to the post, a save that will take some beating when the awards are doled out at the end of the season.

Waking slowly from their slumber, Hibs attacked again soon after, Lewis Stevenson playing it into Riordan who forced another stop from Balogh, this time low at his right-hand post. John Rankin then had a shot that went over from a decent position and Riordan had an effort gathered at the second attempt by Balogh. Hibs were on top now. Still unconvincing, but the team most likely to score. There was probably justice in them drawing a blank for Hearts did not deserve to lose it. Or put another way, neither team deserved to win it.

Hughes was philosophical about it all afterwards. Not a bad point when your team is playing poorly was the gist. As for Laszlo? The man is in pain. If he was an animal you'd be loading the revolver now to bring a speedy end to his suffering.


Chris Hogg was a rock in the heart of the Hibs defence and gobbled up most of those high balls that Hearts sent into the visitors' penalty area.


This was Liam Miller's fourth different derby match, following on from his appearances in the Old Firm match, the Manchester derby and the other biggie in the north of England, Sunderland versus Newcastle.


Not many, apart perhaps from the real reason for Derek Riordan's injured foot. Riordan denied that it was the dog's fault. But sources close to the mutt suggest otherwise.