A TRIUMPH in the face of adversity for Hearts, executed in the faces of their greatest rivals.
The Tynecastle club are ravaged by administration and fighting for their very existence, yet their young academy graduates battled and scratched for their lives in the Edinburgh derby. The gutsiness was duly rewarded with three vital points.
Callum Paterson’s header from Dylan McGowan’s cross decided this tension-filled affair and may also become the final nail in the coffin of Hibs manager Pat Fenlon. It was certainly the final straw for the Hibs support, who booed and jeered their under-pressure manager at full-time.
“That goal is number one. I’ve only scored five,” laughed Paterson, one of 15 youth academy products in Hearts’ 18-man matchday squad. “That’s what we were working at in training on Friday, heading at the front post. I pretty much planned to head for the front stick.”
It was one of few genuine moments of quality in the game. Not that Hearts cared after reducing their 15-point deficit to 12 while heaping the pressure on Hibs. In four competitive matches, the Easter Road club have yet to score this season and fans are now calling for Fenlon to be sacked.
“We weren’t really under any pressure,” continued Paterson. “We were just trying to close the 15-point gap. It’s down to 12 now so we can keep building. We always had belief to be honest but that’s just sparked it even more.”
The full-time whistle brought rapturous celebrations from the home support. Introducing young players to senior football should be a priority for any football club, but Hearts have been forced to rely on kids to dig them out of arguably the biggest hole in club history.
“All the players need to pay back the fans,” said Paterson. “If it wasn’t for them, we probably wouldn’t be here. We need to keep them on our good side, keep playing the way we are and keep them happy.
“I expected a good game, which is what it showed to be. I thought Hibs would be the way they were. They set up to play the way they play and we set up to play how we play and we came out on top.”
Hearts manager Gary Locke revelled in the camaraderie at full-time but stressed he will not be carried away on any wave of emotion. Nor is he likely to forget the scenes which ensued. Any foreigner arriving in Gorgie yesterday would have been forgiven for thinking the only Edinburgh festival venue was Tynecastle.
“It was a huge win,” said Locke. “With the situation we’re in, no matter who we were playing, getting the first win was massive. It helps that it’s your biggest rivals as well. The fans have been through an awful lot over the summer and hopefully that’s a result that will keep them happy.
“It gives everyone a lift. I wasn’t too disappointed getting beat last week [against St Johnstone] so I’m not getting too carried away now. The sooner you get a win, the better. We’ve done that and it’s something to build on. It was 100 miles an hour without a lot of football being played. I think you saw two teams being competitive, and one wee bit of quality won us the game.
“I think Callum’s got the attributes to be a really good striker, but he’s also got the attributes to play right midfield. I don’t have a lot of options. One thing Callum gives you is legs up front and he’s a big lad who is good in the air. That worked reasonably well for us.”
Both managers named attack-minded line-ups, with David Smith and Jason Holt returning for Hearts and Rowan Vine reinstated by Hibs. Ryan Stevenson was withdrawn early through injury after a challenge by Vine, who seemed to go over the ball and was fortunate not to be punished. Stevenson tried to continue after going down twice but was eventually replaced by Jamie Walker on 13 minutes with suspected ligament damage.
The game’s first moment of real controversy came when Scott Robinson and Vine clashed as play was stopped for a head injury to Jamie Hamill. Robinson and Vine were booked, although it had already been made clear that this match was a war of attrition.
Sarcastic chants of “Vladimir Romanov” emanated from the Hibs support on 32 minutes in recognition of the mess in which the Russian has left Hearts. Vine then had the game’s first shot on target from James Collins’ headed knockdown, but Jamie MacDonald collected the ball comfortably. Moments later at the opposite end, Ben Williams collected Hamill’s deflected free kick from around 20 yards.
MacDonald gathered Liam Craig’s free kick and Williams held another long-range effort from Hamill as this tense encounter began to open up slightly. That theme continued after the interval and Collins dragged the first shot of the second period wide of MacDonald’s goal. Hamill, getting plenty of opportunities outside the penalty area, unleashed a swerving 25-yard attempt which Williams held superbly high to his left. Another effort by Collins bounced narrowly wide of the Hearts goal frame on 62 minutes, and MacDonald collected a fairly tame shot from the same player.
Substitute Tom Taiwo wasted the game’s clearest opportunity in the 65th minute. Released by Collins, Craig delivered a low ball across goal from the left which the onrushing Taiwo met first time six yards out. However, the ball went spinning high into the Roseburn Stand and Hibs were left to rue the Englishman’s miss.
Five minutes later, McGowan made space on the right for a delivery on to Paterson’s head. His connection from around six yards steered the ball past Williams and high into the net as Tynecastle erupted.
Two Hearts supporters invaded the pitch and were quickly arrested, and there soon followed taunts of “one Pat Fenlon” and “you’re getting sacked in the morning”.
Paul Hanlon headed over after Michael Nelson won Craig’s corner in the air. Then Vine pursued Nelson’s long ball in behind the Hearts defence, only to shoot wide. Hibs’ pressure intensified during the final stages as they sought an equaliser, but they badly lacked guile in the final third. In truth, both teams did.
Fenlon stressed he has “no problem” with people scrutinising his position as Hibs manager in the wake of the derby defeat. Locke, though, was eager to use the result to lift the confidence of his youngsters.
“I’m hoping this gives them all the confidence in the world. It’s a great result, backed by an unbelievable following again. It’s great that we’ve won our first home game and it makes it more special that it’s Hibs.”
He also expressed concern for Fenlon. “I thought, in terms of effort and commitment, his players couldn’t give him any more. I said before the derby that some of the criticism aimed at him was disgraceful. It’s a disappointing result for him today and I feel for him, but all that concerns me is Heart of Midlothian.”