Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 20 March 2010 - Tynecastle
It's been a long time since Hearts triumphed in the Edinburgh derby but they made amends at Tynecastle on Saturday in one of the most one-sided derby games I can recall. The talk beforehand was of Hibs pushing for third place in the SPL, how John Hughes had done such a fine job at Easter Road and how, at one point, the Easter Road side were looking at the possibility of splitting the Old Firm. On yesterday's evidence this is a long way off.
Hearts were missing several players as a result of injury - and some of those who did take to the field were far from fully fit. The return of Andrew Driver was a welcome sight but was tempered with the nagging thought that he really should have been on the substitute's bench - but, as with Ian Black, was given a starting place. Driver's presence alongside Larry Kingston gave the impression that manager Jim Jefferies - despite the injury crisis- was going for three points no matter what.
The decision to play Black from the start backfired as the former Caley Thistle player had to leave the field through injury after just twenty-five minutes. Minutes earlier defender David Kurchaski also limped off - two substitutes used before half an hour was played and it seemed the hand of fate had slapped Hearts in the face once more. Ironically, Kurchaski's replacement -the enigma that is Suso Santana - produced arguably his best performance in a maroon shirt as Hearts set about dominating their capital city rivals.
Kingston and Obua both had early chances as the maroons camped themselves in the Hibernian half. The Hearts team may have been cobbled together but it was no surprise when their dominance was rewarded with the opening goal after twenty four minutes. Delightful play by Santana down the right wing saw the Spaniard deliver a teasing cross which smacked off the post and land at the feet of Driver who lashed the ball past a startled Graham Stack in the Hibs goal to give Hearts the lead. Three minutes later Hearts doubled their lead when Driver's corner was nodded on by Jonsson and headed home by Gary Glen. Cue bedlam at Tynecastle.
That Hearts didn't add to their lead was astonishing. Obua, Santana and Glen all had gilt-edged chances to score - the latter being clean through on goal before contriving to try and take the ball round Stack but losing control - and the feeling grew that Hearts patched up team of half fit players would tire as the game drew to its conclusion. Thus, Hibernian pulled a goal back with ten minutes left through Derek Riordan thereby ensuring an uneasy end to the game - quite ridiculous really when Hearts really should have been out of sight. However, there endeth the scoring and a hugely deserved derby win for Edinburgh's big team - normal service has been seemingly resumed.
Hibernian were awful. Much has been written about how well John Hughes' side has played this season but they were out-fought and out classed by their neighbours on Saturday. The last time I recall such a one-sided Edinburgh derby was nearly four years ago when Hearts won the Scottish Cup semi-final of 2006 by 4-0 at Hampden. My Hibernian associates never tire of telling me that Hibs play the game 'the proper way' with flair and style and the oft-told story of how the touring Hibs team influenced Brazil in the 1950s still makes me smile. On Saturday, as Graham Stack launched yet another long, aimless ball in the hope of finding a forward the chant from the sneering home support was 'It's Just Like Watching Brazil...'
Hearts are still not assured of a top six place although this position come the ridiculous SPL split is now between the Gorgie team and St. Johnstone. The Perth Saints lost at Celtic on Saturday and the gap between them and Hearts is now six points - but Derek McInnes' side crucially have two games in hand, the first of which is this Tuesday.
For now, however, Hearts fans are basking in the glow of an Edinburgh derby victory. There is no better feeling!