Scampering in behind the Hibs defence, Billy King knew this was his moment. Stay calm, don’t panic, and you’re an Edinburgh derby hero.
The teenager executed his plan perfectly. He even overcame a slight stumble after rounding goalkeeper Ben Williams to roll the ball into an empty net and ink his name in derby folklore.
The euphoria generated by Hearts’ 2-0 win at Tynecastle on Sunday continues after they denied Hibs the chance to relegate them. King has been inundated with congratulations and goodwill messages after scoring the stoppage-time strike that sealed the win. It was his first goal in senior football, and at the most opportune time.
Speaking today for the first time about the best afternoon of his fledgling career to date, he admitted being surprised to find himself eyeballing Williams in the dying seconds of such a crucial match. King has spent much of the season coming off the substitutes’ bench so did not expect to be presented with the chance to make a major contribution. To his credit, he handled those few seconds of intense pressure with aplomb.
“Hibs were pushing for a goal and it left them short at the back,” he recalled. “We counter-attacked and I think we had three or four men attacking against their two. Sam [Nicholson] was running with the ball and I thought he was going to play it through to me but he passed to Ryan Stevenson instead. Stevenson put me one on one with the goalkeeper and I was actually surprised the ball got to me. I was quite shocked.
“I found myself facing the goalie and I managed to keep calm and go round him and then put the ball in the net. I went round him and I was expecting him to catch me, that’s why I stumbled a wee bit. The touch never came and I managed to regain my composure and slot the ball in the net.
“It’s my first goal for the club and it’s especially pleasing to get it against Hibs.”
King is momentarily interrupted by the former Hearts vice-chairman Pilmar Smith, who offers yet more congratulations. “Cheers,” replies the winger. He actually looks slightly embarrassed by all the adulation.
“It’s the best moment of my career so far, definitely. It’s great to beat Hibs. They came here thinking they were going to relegate us but we played brilliantly for the full 90 minutes and never gave them a chance.
“It was a great moment scoring against our biggest rivals.”
The aftermath of the goal saw most of the Hearts players congregating in the corner between the Main Stand and Gorgie Road end to celebrate with King. With only seconds remaining, their relief was understandable as they earned a stay of execution in the Scottish Premiership and postponed their relegation until at least tomorrow night.
“I was somewhere in the middle of all that after the goal. Everyone just ran across to congratulate me,” said King.
“It was Hibs’ chance to come and relegate us at Tynecastle so that gave us extra determination to get the win over them. Obviously, these games don’t need to be hyped up. We all know our jobs because it’s a massive game. I’m just thankful we won it.
“There wasn’t tension in our dressing room beforehand because I think the pressure is more on Hibs. They’re fighting to stay in the league and it looked the they were under pressure in the game.
“Winning the derby is the very least we can give the fans back. I thought they were brilliant on Sunday and it’s great that we were able to give them that. It was a great performance from all of us and a really memorable day.”
There is a feeling within Riccarton that King’s scoring chance was just reward for a season of patience. Many young players have cemented regular places in Gary Locke’s first team this season following Hearts’ financial collapse last year. King has played more of a bit-part role. Of his 27 appearances so far, 24 have come as a substitute. Yet the player shows no sign of his frustration boiling over and is content that his chance will come in time.
“I just need to keep ticking away, doing well in training and playing well for the under-20s,” he said. “I’m playing a part in most games. I just need to make sure during my time on the park that I do well. I need to be patient. My chance will come and I need to take it.
“I thought I made a good contribution coming on against Hibs, although it was a great team effort all round and good build-up play for my goal. There were a lot of positives for us. The manager was very pleased but we’re not getting too carried away. He said I took the goal really well and everybody’s been congratulating me. They all know it’s my first goal for the club and it couldn’t have been timed any better.
“I’ve been a Hearts fan all my life and there were a lot of young players in both teams at the weekend. We’ve all played against each other through the age group teams so we all know each other. It’s quite a special moment to get my first goal against Hibs.
“I had a feeling we were going to win. All derbies are the same and it’s whoever handles the pressure and performs better on the day. We did it on Sunday.”
Hearts’ relegation will be confirmed if they lose to Aberdeen at Tynecastle tomorrow night. Thereafter, results for the rest of the season will become incidental as they plan for life in the Championship.
King has his own agenda to attend to. Following Sunday’s feat, he knows the remaining games offer an opportunity to establish his credentials ahead of next season.
“I need to build on Sunday and keep making an impression when I come on. Hopefully I’ll get some starts soon,” he said. “I need to do everything I can between now and the end of the campaign. Next season will look a lot different with possibly new players. If I do well in the next few weeks then it plants seeds in people’s heads for next year. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Planting that ball in Williams’ rigging ensured he has already sown a few seeds. Now it is time to grow them and earn himself a permanent place in the Hearts first team.