Hearts came from behind to consign Hibs to a sixth straight Scottish Premier League defeat and put themselves right at the front of the battle for a Europa League spot.
The visitors, who had left deposed captain Michael Stewart out of their matchday squad, were eager to weaken Hibs’ grip on European qualification and showed their determination to grab a result early on when Larry Kingston smacked the frame of the Hibs goal with a powerful drive during an open first half.
Hearts looked the most likely to score, with David Templeton’s near-post strike beaten out for a corner by Graeme Smith. Smith’s endeavours were matched by his opposite number minutes later as Jamie MacDonald reacted well to palm out Derek Riordan’s placed shot after the forward had been found in the box by Colin Nish’s intelligent pass.
A dangerous free-kick by Kingston was almost touched into the net by the foot of David Obua before Paul Hanlon was allowed space in the Hearts box, heading wide from Liam Miller’s cross. The match continued to swing from end to end with Hearts unable to profit from a teasing Templeton centre. More set-up play by Nish laid on a shooting chance for John Rankin and the midfielder’s stinging drive was met by a diving save by MacDonald.
Despite the first half petering out, the game burst into life again ten minutes after the break as Hibs were awarded their penalty. Rankin burst into the box and went to ground as he was challenged by Marius Zaliukas, with referee Dougie MacDonald pointing to the spot. However, television replays showed that Zaliukas had made little, if any, contact with the Hibs man. Hearts’ protests fell on deaf ears, and Anthony Stokes duly stroked home the penalty with calm composure.
Hearts rung the changes as they pressed for parity, with Calum Elliot and then Suso were called off the bench for Gary Glen and Ryan Stevenson.
The decision from Hearts manager Jim Jeffries proved crucial when both substitutes played their part in the equaliser. Elliot chased David Obua’s headed flick-on into the penalty area and with Hibs keeper Smith coming off his line as Hanlon cleared to the edge of the box, Suso chipped the ball into the unguarded net.
The dramatic turnaround was completed in the closing stages as Smith failed to gather Templeton’s inswinging cross and Obua was applied the finishing touch at the back post with only two minutes remaining, sending the visiting faithful wild.
The result meant Hibs remained in fifth, a point behind Motherwell who lost to Celtic later in the day. Sixth-placed Hearts sat three behind their Edinburgh rivals going into the final two rounds of fixtures. Finishing fourth for the Jambos would have guaranteed a Europa League place, while fifth would have also secured a passage into Europe after Dundee United beat Ross County in the Scottish Cup.
However, the derby victory was to prove inconsequential by the end of the season as Hearts failed to win their last two fixtures, leaving them in sixth and wondering what could have been.
Hearts: MacDonald, Jonsson, Palazuelos, Wallace, Black, Zaliukas, Templeton, Kingston, Glen, Obua, Stevenson
Hibs: Smith, Hogg, Murray, Thicot, Hanlon, Rankin, Wotherspoon, Miller, Nish, Riordan, Stokes