Where has this Hearts been all season? The Jambos flew off bottom in the Premiership relegation scrap by securing a derby win of epic proportions, beating arch-rivals Hibs 3-1 at Easter Road.
Daniel Stendel’s side just about edged the first half with their workmanship but the score remained 0-0. Sean Clare broke that deadlock six minutes after the break from the penalty spot, following a handball from Hibs playmaker Scott Allan.
Oliver Bozanic, who had scored Hearts’ Scottish Cup winner at the weekend, scored another vital goal as his curled effort sent his side on the home straight to a massive win. Conor Washington’s calm finish sealed things on an incredible night for Hearts, Melker Hallberg’s consolation doing little to console dejected Hibs fans who had remained in the ground until the bitter end.
Both were buoyed going into this clash by news that they’d face each other at Hampden again. The Scottish Cup draw presented an Edinburgh derby next month after Hibs beat Inverness and Hearts stunned Rangers prior to this meeting.
In league action, this was a big one for completely different reasons. Hibs had to get three points to boost their European football ambitions, whilst the Jambos had to obtain maximum points to help their bid to avoid relegation to the Championship. A win in Leith could move them off bottom, a potentially major boost.
No handshakes were to occur before kick off. No, it wasn’t because of sheer spite for the other rival, rather coronavirus measures put in place by the SFA hours before this encounter. Such measures are essential during these worrying times but the mood around Leith was still as raucous and lively as ever with this fixture.
It started off as you’d expect – fiery, frantic and plenty of meaty tackles. That being said, there was little in terms of chances during the first 15 minutes, Christian Doidge spurning the best chance by glancing a header past Zdenek Zlamal’s near-post.
Perhaps his Hibs strike partner Marc McNulty found himself lucky not to be sent off in that period of time. With Clare on the deck, the Reading loanee appeared to stand directly on his back but referee Kevin Clancy did nothing in terms of dishing out punishment.
Up the other end and stand-in Hearts captain Craig Halkett was left with his head in his hands just after the 20-minute mark. A pinpoint Bozanic cross met the ex-Livingston skipper’s head within six yards of Ofir Marciano’s goal, but the Israeli international did well to stop it’s goal-bound trajectory.
Daniel Stendel’s men weren’t looking like a team bottom of the league. They were sturdy, compact and the likes of Liam Boyce and Clare were causing problems in attack. They had to capitalise on this as they’d probably edged Hibs during a tightly contested first 45 where nobody could break the deadlock.
A 51st minute penalty gave them the chance to do so. Clare had won the penalty by heading the ball onto Allan, who’s arm didn’t really need to be where it ended up. Rejuvenated under Stendel, Clare was the coolest man in Leith to spark wild scenes in the away end with a strong spot-kick .
And after 64 Bozanic became the man of the moment once more. Fresh off the back of scoring the goal that knocked Rangers out the Scottish Cup, he curled a lovely shot past Marciano to give his team deserved breathing room.
Hibs had flatlined in the second half and Stendel’s warriors made them pay. It was a long way back for them based on how they were playing and how badly Hearts wanted this victory.
Little was happening in terms of a Hibees recovery. Paul McGinn sent a header over the bar with 14 minutes to spare but that was about it. Despite the 15 goals in five matches previous, their dangerous attack was completely nullified at the wrong time.
A terrible night for Hibs would only get worse. Hickey’s superb pass split their defence in half as Hearts attempted to break. Washington still had a lot to do when got the ball in the box but he shuffled a bit and fired brilliantly beyond Marciano.
Hallberg fired into an empty net a few minutes later to pull one back for Hibs but that was that on quite an incredible night for Hearts. They are off the bottom now whilst Hibs have been hit with a big jab to the face in their quest for third. Here are three things we learned.
Jambo soldier answers call to arms
Much was made of star Hearts centre-back John Souttar’s season-ending injury prior to this clash. As he showed against Rangers and here against Hibs, Clevid Dikamona looks set to fill the Scotland international’s void.
Strong in the tackle, great awareness and sheer determination not to be beat to anything inspired Dikamona to perhaps his best performance in maroon yet. And what a time to turn it in.
The turning point?
This has the potential to be Hearts’ turning point. It’s two consecutive wins for the first time since they played Cowdenbeath and Stenhousemuir consecutively in the League Cup in July.
Stendel has the ability within his changing room to fire Hearts out of a relegation hell. Four days of Gorgie heaven have proven that but displays likes this must be the benchmark for them now. There’s a long way to go, but this feels important for Stendel.
Much to ponder for Ross
Hibs had been so good heading into this fixture. One defeat at Ibrox since the winter break has allowed them to soar into the race for European football but this was a real off-night for Jack Ross.
The ex-Sunderland manager has to make sure this is a blip, however bad this will feel for everyone associated with Hibs. A good result at the weekend over Euro rivals Aberdeen at Pittodrie will go some way to healing the wounds of a damaging derby defeat.