A Blistering start and an emphatic ending sees Hearts live to fight another day.
Dale Carrick’s early goal and Billy King’s stoppage-time clincher ensured they would not be relegated by their Capital rivals. Instead, Hearts silenced Hibs’ planned party and kicked off their very own.
The result merely delays the inevitable drop into the Championship but that was incidental to Hearts supporters last night. They arrived at Tynecastle to 3500 Hibs fans eager to gloat and confirm their neighbours’ demise. An away win would consign Hearts to the Championship. However, the desire and application of those in maroon brought them a stay of execution, not to mention much joy.
Indeed, the notion at full-time was that more displays of that magnitude earlier in the campaign would have them positioned much closer to the rest of the league. They started with a bang when Carrick scored on six minutes and finished with one via substitute King’s late strike. There was a lucky break in between when Jordon Forster’s 82nd-minute header nestled in Jamie MacDonald’s net but was disallowed for offside. Television replays showed the defender was clearly played onside by Dylan McGowan, a decision the Hibs manager Terry Butcher later described as “horrendous”.
Alan Maybury was sent off for a second caution just before King converted his first senior goal at the most timely moment. Overall, the passion and power Hearts showed earned them the three points, albeit Hibs enjoyed most of the possession during the second half. The hosts were simply unwilling to suffer the ignominy of Hibs relegating them and it showed in their tenacity. Ryan Stevenson, David Smith and Sam Nicholson all imposed themselves on the proceedings, with Carrick and King supplying the finishing touches.
“It was a great start, although I didn’t realise it was that early,” Carrick said of his composed finish from Stevenson’s knockdown. “It just all happened so quickly that I didn’t know what to feel and I didn’t know what to do for the celebration. It’s always been something, since I was playing under-12s for Hearts, to one day make it to the first team and score against Hibs. It’s a dream come true.
“I scored quite a few against them at youth level and it’s always good to beat them. Doing it for the first team tops the lot. I had family and friends in the Hibs end. My uncles and cousins were there because we have a Hearts side and a Hibs side in my family. They just always tell me, ‘don’t score against Hibs’, so I thought I might as well do it. I’ll phone them later and see how they’re doing.”
St Mirren’s 2-2 draw at Inverness on Saturday meant a Hibs victory yesterday would make Hearts’ survival in the top flight mathematically impossible. That prospect was key in Gary Locke’s pre-match team-talk.
“It was, ‘go out and play, work your socks off and we’ll get the result we need’. We got the right result,” continued Carrick. “It was their so-called party but we ended their party and started our own party. It was built up by the gaffer. This is the game we need to win, we need to do it and we did it. I think we were in the mood anyway because it’s a derby. You always go into a derby thinking, ‘yes, today we’re going to have it’.
“There was great communication between us and we were all fighting for each other. It seemed to work. It was gutting knowing St Mirren drew but we knew we were going to win because it was against Hibs and we weren’t going to get relegated by them.”
Hibs remain seventh in the league table but, with six games remaining, are only six points ahead of St Mirren in the relegation play-off spot. There is one more Edinburgh derby to come at Easter Road this season, with a slim chance that both Capital clubs could end up in the Championship come August. That was noted by the Hearts fans yesterday, who did their own taunting with chants of “you’re going down with the Jambos” towards the Roseburn Stand.
“There’s always a possibility,” said Carrick. “I’d like to see it happen because it’s great having the derbies. Might as well have derbies down there as well.”
It took only six minutes for the fireworks to begin as Hearts secured an early lead. Callum Paterson’s right-footed cross was redirected into Carrick’s path by Stevenson’s head. The striker showed tremendous composure inside the penalty area to control the ball and bury it beyond Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams.
Hearts continued taking the game to Hibs and setting a high tempo of play. Their front four of Smith, Stevenson, Carrick and Sam Nicholson were causing problems with their movement and invention.
Hibs took time to find any rhythm but built a fine, flowing move on 28 minutes involving Duncan Watmore and Maybury. They worked the ball into Danny Handling’s feet but his right-footed shot on the turn arced wide. Minutes later, Sam Stanton curled a free-kick past the post from around 22 yards out.
Five minutes from half-time, Hibs fashioned as clear a chance as anyone could expect in an Edinburgh derby. Watmore cleverly evaded Kevin McHattie and rolled the ball into the path of the advancing James Collins. Despite being unmarked, he sent the ball into the Gorgie Road stand from 18 yards. Handling’s effort from similar distance seconds later went past Jamie MacDonald’s right post.
Carrick sent an effort of his own over the crossbar before Williams produced the save of the match as the interval approached. Nicholson unleashed a dipping right-footed shot from 30 yards which looked destined for the net until the goalkeeper’s one-handed save pushed the ball for a corner.
If the first half was open and fast-paced, the second was no different. Hearts again seized the initiative from kick-off and had the first scoring opportunity when Carrick slid a pass through to put Smith in behind the visiting defence. His angled shot flew across goal and wide of Williams’ right post. Hearts had a fortunate escape on the hour mark when a Hibs attack ended with Collins’ shot striking the raised arm of McGowan. Hibs appealed justifiably for a penalty but referee Steven McLean was unmoved. Then came Ryan McGivern’s header from a corner which narrowly rose over MacDonald’s crossbar.
The Easter Road side were enjoying more possession and began to threaten more in what was their best spell of the game. They introduced Alex Harris and Kevin Thomson and tested MacDonald through Harris and Collins in quick succession. Hearts found themselves pressed back towards their own 18-yard line and were struggling to get out.
Forster planted a header into the net from Lewis Stevenson’s deep cross after 82 minutes, but he was flagged offside just as the away end erupted. Television pictures later showed that decision was incorrect. Still Hibs persevered in search of an equaliser.
However, they were without Maybury for the final seconds after he was red-carded. A late tackle on Hearts substitute Billy King as the hosts broke forward earned the former Tynecastle defender a second yellow card, his first having been given for persistent fouling. The sense of injustice prompted one Hibs fan to run on to the pitch, possibly headed for the referee, before he was intercepted by stewards and police.
The final suckerpunch was still to come, though. In the dying seconds, King scampered on to a through ball from Stevenson to round Williams and slot the killer second goal. With that, the party planned in the away end got into full swing in the home stands.
Locke turned to his father, a season ticket holder behind Tynecastle’s away dugout, and clenched his fist. The manager wasn’t far away from tears due to the relief at avoiding the unthinkable. “That was a result for our supporters. They’ve stuck by us all season,” he said. “It was a massive game. One thing we didn’t want is for Hibs to come here and put us down. The fans have had to put up with a lot this season. Hopefully they are happy. Unfortunately, it is a bit too late for us.
“Our wide men caused Hibs a lot of problems. I thought it was a great game. We got a lucky break with the disallowed goal because their boy was onside. The players have showed they are improving and hopefully we have a strong future. I thought everyone was great, even the subs. It would be wrong of me to single anyone out.”