HEARTS’ celebratory match-day programme to mark “The Millennium Derby” wouldn’t have made pleasant reading for the Hibs fans who bothered to buy it before the clash at Tynecastle.
The glossy 60-page offering contained some grim reading for those swathed in green and white, a derby-day record which showed just how the Gorgie club had held the upper hand throughout the history of this fixture.
In 90 minutes, however, manager Alex McLeish’s players swept aside the many days of pain Hibs fans have suffered on the other side of the city, claiming three goals on their rivals’ turf for the first time since New Year’s Day, 1973.
Jambos boss Jim Jefferies winced that day as he and his team-mates were on the end of a 7-0 hammering, and he looked just as pained again as he watched his Hearts side simply taken apart by a rampant Hibs outfit.
And Jefferies could have few complaints, other than the manner in which his side capitulated to a team which made it clear from the outset that they weren’t going to be bossed about as they refused to get themselves caught up in a whirlwind start.
With Franck Sauzee using all his experience in the middle of the park, Hibs were determined to get the ball down, pass it about and play the game at their pace, with Trinidad and Tobago star Russell Latapy opening up the Hearts defence for Dirk Lehmann to drill a low shot into the corner of the net.
Eight minutes later and the game was as good as over, Sauzee latching on to a Steven Pressley clearance 20 yards out to rifle the ball behind the shell-shocked Antti Niemi.
And if anyone had questioned the mileage left in the veteran midfielder’s legs they got their answer as he raced the length of the pitch to salute the Hibs fans at the opposite end, an action which showed that the derby means as much to the foreign players as the home-grown lads wearing green and white.
Hearts could have scored themselves as they did make a push for a goal towards the end of the first half, Nick Colgan producing great saves from Fitzroy Simpson, Colin Cameron and Gary Naysmith, but with John Hughes and Shaun Dennis rock-solid in the centre of Hibs’ defence the green and white army sensed this was going to be their night – particularly when Latapy suddenly exploded into life with a dazzling display of his skills.
The little midfield magician danced past a string of tackles only for the legs of Niemi to prevent the ball going into the net. An angled drive fizzed across the face of goal and then Niemi was left flat-footed by the deftest of chips from Latapy which deserved a better fate than to drift inches wide of the target.
How the Hibs fans behind Niemi’s goal loved it, particularly as the other three stands began to empty, few Hearts supporters remaining to see substitute Kenny Miller administer the coup de grace in the final minute.
All that was left was for Colgan to sum up Hearts’ night with a point-blank save from Cameron and set the Hibs fans celebrating like it was 1999.
While Hearts were leaderless and rudderless, each and every one of McLeish’s players turned it on when it really mattered.
Hearts were the top Edinburgh team by the end of the season though, finishing 13 points clear of Hibs in third place as they secured European football.