AS THE Vladimir Romanov era began in earnest, Hearts fans were left expecting big things after a derby hammering of Hibs.
Romanov blew kisses to his adoring Tynecastle public as Hearts romped to glory and the famous old stadium resonated to the sound of thousands of appreciative supporters chanting the name of the club’s owner.
But there was a feeling of change surrounding this match, and the ambitious Romanov quickly won the hearts of the punters with his willingness to put his money where his mouth is as he sought to break the Old Firm’s domestic dominance. The fireworks which greeted the teams as they ran out the tunnel could have been blowing away the remnants of the Chris Robinson era.
The appointment of George Burley as manager just weeks before. And the nature of this crushing victory and the refreshing atmosphere in the stadium only emphasised the fact that this sleeping giant was stirring once again.
From the first whistle the hosts seized control of proceedings and midfielder Rudi Skacel celebrated his call-up to the Czech Republic side with his second goal in successive matches, the new signing bundling home the opener after compatriot Roman Bednar had seen his shot blocked by Zibi Malkowski.
The visitors almost hit back immediately with what would prove to be a rare effort on goal, Craig Gordon saving well from Gary Caldwell. The Easter Road skipper was forced out of the action later in the half after fracturing a rib in a collision with his goalkeeper, the Scotland defender’s presence sorely missed as Hearts turned the screw after the break.
Hibs boss Tony Mowbray was banished to the stand on the stroke of half-time after a touchline discussion with referee Stuart Dougal.
Apart from a brief flurry from his side early in the second half, what he saw could not have made for pleasant viewingas the game swung decisively in the Jambos’ favour with 58 minutes on the clock.
Stephen Glass needlessly handled in the box and Paul Hartley converted from the spot to make it 2-0. Tynecastle then swung into party mode when substitute Stephen Simmons stretched his side’s lead after 71 minutes. And there was more joy for the home fans seven minutes from time when Saulius Mikoliunas blasted a 25-yarder past Malkowski.
More goals looked a distinct possibility at that stage and Dougal was perhaps feeling sorry for the visitors as he brought an end to proceedings 30 seconds early. By the final shrill blast of his whistle, saw Hearts had stormed to the top of the SPL.
Hearts: Gordon, Neilson, Webster, Pressley, McAllister, Mikoliunas, Hartley, Bednar (MacFarlane 74 ), Skacel, Brellier (Wallace 69), Elliot (Simmons 52).
Hibs: Malkowski, Whittaker, Smith, Caldwell, Murphy, Beuzelin, Stewart, Thomson, Glass, O’Conner, Konte.