Hibernian 1 - 0 Hearts: Hibs fly higher amid fireworks

Fletcher 14

TWO sending offs, two seemingly net-bound strikes denied by the stantion, another off the bar, but only one goal. It was enough to give Hibernian the edge in this match, and the belief that third place is no longer beyond them.

The fact that the goal came from Steven Fletcher, who was sent off in the previous capital derby, made the victory all the more poignant for the home side.

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In third and sixth place, the gap between the Edinburgh clubs has now been cut to nine points, but if Hibs can stave off Motherwell and Hamilton for the final top-six place they know that post-match head-to-heads such as this one could see a massive swing in the current standings.

The goal came in the 14th minute when Fletcher's attempted header struck his shoulder before looping over Hearts goalkeeper Janos Balogh, but the real excitement and talking points occurred in the few minutes leading up to the interval. That was when Colin Nish played a long pass over the top of the Hearts defence for his strike partner, Fletcher, to run onto. Hearts' Hungarian keeper opted to race off his line in the hope of beating Fletcher to the ball. It was a forlorn hope and the pair clashed around 25 yards from goal. With no Hearts defenders behind the ball it was a clear goal-scoring opportunity denied. Red card number one to Hearts.

One goal down and one player down, but at least one aspect of that was redressed a minute or two later. Deep into stoppage time, Michael Stewart threaded a pass into the left channel and Hibs defender Sol Bamba felled Christian Nade as he tried to get on the end of it and cut in towards goal.

"I don't think there is any question about the first (red card], said Mixu Paatelainen, who was enjoying the taste of an Edinburgh derby triumph for the first time as Hibs manager. "It was very clear cut and an easy decision for the referee, but I felt the second one was questionable. Sol Bamba was looking in the other direction and it was more of a collision. It wasn't over aggressive play and I didn't feel that they were denied a goal-scoring opportunity, but the referee saw it the other way and wanted to level it. Simple as that."

It was debatable, given that there was little likelihood of the big striker racing away from the right-back. Even if he had Grzegorz Szamotulski had already proved himself in a one-on-one situation with Nade, so it was certainly not as clear-cut an opportunity as the one denied at the other end. It was a blow to Hibs, who were already reaping the benefit of the early goal and the fact it forced Hearts to come out looking for a leveller rather than sitting in for a draw.

A one-man advantage would have been an even bigger asset, especially as Hearts had already lost one of their key attacking threats, Andy Driver, to a thigh injury in the 26th minute.

It made for a compelling contest, which raged from one end to the other at pace, but while Hearts failed to capitalise on their chances, it was Fletcher's finish which separated the sides.

The striker, who was watched by Scotland manager George Burley, and would seem to have returned to form just in time for the next squad announcement, added to the goal he scored against Hamilton last week.

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Minutes after Derek Riordan had almost opened the scoring with a searing 30-yard drive which crashed back off the stantion, Fletcher then found the net. It was an Alen O'Brien cross in from the right and the 21-year-old inside the six-yard box in attempt to head towards goal. Instead, the ball appeared to hit him on the shoulder, lifting it over and beyond Balogh. The fact that it wasn't what he intended was neither here nor there to the striker, who seems to have regained his confidence.

But it wasn't a match Hibs had all to themselves. Hearts had tested with a Stewart shot just nicking the wrong side of the post in the opening minutes and in the 21st minute a bout of Bamba casualness allowed Nade to test the the Hibs goalkeeper from close range. Szamotulski got down well at his feet and managed to block the ball as the striker tried to round him.

Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo had not been happy with the defending when Hibs took the lead, but he admitted that the most telling difference between the sides was his own team's inability to convert possession and chances into goals, with Nade, the man whose goal separated the teams the last time they met, the biggest culprit.

"The difference between professional and amateur footballers is if they have one chance they must score. If you need five or six chances then that is very bad," said Laszlo.

Stewart almost made the breakthrough for the Tynecastle side, his free-kick following the Bamba sending off, coming back off the stantion.

As the match wore on it was the midfielder's set pieces which were the biggest cause for concern to Hibs and that threat was missed when he was replaced by Polish midfielder Adrian Mrowiec in the 76th minute.

Moments earlier Hibs had almost extended their lead, though. But Jamie MacDonald, who had come on for Bruno Aguiar to replace Balogh in goal, showed the Hungarian how he should have handled the first-half situation. A virtually identical ball was played over the top of Eggert Jonsson to Fletcher, leaving him to charge in on goal. This time, the goalkeeper stayed big and parried Fletcher's effort.

It gave Hearts a modicum of hope and they continued to press for an equaliser but were always vulnerable to a quick counter, especially when Jonsson was pushed up to bolster the attack as the clock ticked down.

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Nade did have another chance in the 84th minute, but he could not get enough power or direction on his header and it bounced back off the bar.

It allowed Hibs to rack up their third clean sheet in succession. A perfect response to their manager's outburst after the recent Inverness match.

For Hearts, third place is still theirs to defend. But someone in their ranks will need to find a scoring streak if they are to make it easier. The question on this evidence, is who that could be.


Steven Fletcher is getting back to form with two goals in two games. There were a few contenders, but the fact he was the one player with the ability to convert a chance into a goal sets him apart.


Hearts have now picked up six red cards this season. Hibs have been shown two.


The sendings off. Always contentious, but in a derby when few fans can see any wrong in their teams, referee Charlie Richmond was never going to escape the wrath of the crowd, especially when he sent off Sol Bamba for a challenge which looked more worthy of a booking.