Hearts made a very strong (and overdue) statement of intent with their spirited 3-1 victory over Hibernian in Tuesday evening’s Edinburgh Derby. I was caught in the flowing river of Hearts fan on the crisp walk up to the gates of Easter Road. If the maroon scarves and burgundy jackets didn’t give the Jam Tarts’ faithful away, the sustained singing down Albion Road did. The noise merely intensified as you entered the stadium. Hearts fans now had a sell-out home crowd to compete with, as all four stands serenaded each other before kickoff.
Daniel Stendel’s Hearts side came into the game at the foot of the table, in desperate need of a win, but coming off Saturday evening’s Scottish cup victory against Rangers. Hibernian sat sixth, looking for a fifth win in their last six games, a Europa League spot and bragging rights: there was little extra motivation required for this one.
It was Hearts who really grabbed the bull by the horns, and forced Hibs to act as bystanders at times in their own ground. A second half penalty by Sean Clare, and cultured finishes from both Oliver Bozanic and Conor Washington gave Hearts a 3-0 lead, which substitute Melker Hallberg could only dent late on, as the home side fell 3-1 to their bitter rivals.
Both sides took their time settling into the game, both guilty of multiple chippy fouls early on, in what looked like an Edinburgh Derby that would inevitably boil over. But it never quite did. Hearts played a very fluid formation: a hybrid of a 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1, with occasions where they’d shift into a back three (or even back two if both full-backs Aaron Hickey and Michael Smith ventured forwards). Hibs started out with a 4-3-3, and whilst manager Jack Ross put more men forward in the second half, the hosts found themselves playing very rigidly, which somewhat explains the result.
The first half could not boast many chances; Ofir Marciano made a smart save from Craig Halkett’s header, and Hickey came close as he fired just past the left hand post. After 45 minutes, the derby was not a classic, and the second half could only promise better things.
Five minutes after the restart, we got just that; a needless handball from Scott Allan from a Hearts corner gifted Clare a penalty in front of the away end. Clare slotted into the bottom left, past Marciano who made a valiant attempt at the save. A defensive error from centre-back Paul Hanlon inadvertently let in Washington, before Paul McGinn spared his blushes.
There was nothing McGinn, nor anybody else in green and white, could do about Hearts’ second goal. As a result of Hearts’ increasingly effective pressing and lateral passing, a short pass from Lewis Moore found Bozanic, who after starting fairly poorly, made no mistake placing his shot past Marciano’s diving right hand. The away end could have taken off into the air as Hearts fans bounced to their two-goal cushion.
It was clear that Ross had decided Hibs best route to goal was behind the Hearts back line; the smart and physical defending of Clevid Dikamona thwarted these efforts in the first half, and as Hearts sat back to defend their lead, the lack of invention in the Hibernian game plan was exposed further. As Hibs gave away an extremely cheap corner with fifteen to go, there was the first sign of an exodus at Easter Road. I’ll let you guess which colours these fans were wearing.
These fans were probably lucky not to witness the third goal live. Hibs almost sat back and watched the ball get passed from Hearts’ box to 17-year-old Hickey, who slipped a through ball, a little too easily, past the two defenders resembling Hibs’ back line, into Washington, who took his time to place the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
The death knell of the Edinburgh derby sounds like thousands of Hearts fans singing ‘We want more’ and ‘so fucking easy’ to an emptying Easter Road. Substitute Hallberg did little to quiet the Jambos fans with his goal, coming with possibly his first touch. Hallberg smashed a loose ball home, after Loic Damour’s clearance off the line.
Image: Tom Wileman