THERE had been nothing to separate the teams on previous derby days in this campaign but this time there was one defining difference. Desire. And Hearts showed more of it.
From the first few minutes when they utilised quality deliveries and their height advantage to good effect, up until the final minutes when they dug deep to prevent their rivals grabbing an equaliser, the home side showed the will to win that had not always been evident in recent times.
Manager Jim Jefferies had said he would let his coach and former Hearts captain Gary Locke loose on his players in the hours preceding the game so they were in no doubt what the match meant and the coaching staff did a masterful job in getting round key protagonists and convincing them they were match winners.
This was a Hibs team which up until a month before this encounter believed they had the beating of any team in the league and it showed in their play. Ibrox, Celtic Park, no arena seemed to daunt them but that belief was severely lacking, the spirit of invincibility suffocated by edginess as all around the park Hearts dominated the individual battles.
The match had started with a high tempo despite both teams fielding sides unsettled by changes, enforced and otherwise. Hibs were without captain Chris Hogg, who had been troubled with back spasms, and was replaced by Steven Thicot while Jefferies made sweeping alterations to his midfield, bringing in Ruben Palazuelos, Ian Black and Andrew Driver, adding experience, bite and creativity to the starting line-up.
By the 25th minute, the first of that trio had been pushed back to left-back in a reshuffle prompted by a David Kurcharski hamstring injury, while Black was removed, clearly against his will, after sustaining concussion.
Black had initially defied medical advice and re-entered the fray in time to snuff out a Hibs break and from there the ball was played forward with substitute Suso Santana’s ball in from the right bouncing back off the woodwork to Driver who was clinical from close range. Black was immediately replaced but by then he wasn’t the only one who had been knocked senseless.
The second goal arrived just minutes later and this time it was Gary Glen who finished off after Eggert Jonsson had initially threatened with a header.
Hearts were swarming all over the visitors and could have battered another couple in, goalkeeper Graham Stack charged out his area and made a poor header, before the defence made a meal of getting it clear.
There were intermittent forays from Hibs but none of them materialised into anything tangible.
The interval offered some respite for the battered and beleaguered Leith side but as soon as the second half started, they were again under extreme pressure.
Lewis Stevenson was the Hibs hero in the 52nd minute when Glen was through on goal and the full-back scarpered back to get in a great tackle in the box. Four minutes later Glen came close with a header from Laryea Kingston’s free-kick and Stack had to make a great save, diving to his right.
Visiting defender Sol Bamba appealed for a penalty when he tumbled in the box claiming he had been fouled by Ryan Stevenson but no-one was buying it. Hibs did get pull a goal back in the 78th minute when Derek Riordan sent his shot in off the underside of the crossbar and it stimulated something of a late charge but with Hearts also going all out for another goal to ensure their first derby win in seven, it wasn’t all one-sided.
Hearts: Balogh, Thomson, Wallace, Kucharski, Palazuelos, Jonsson, Black, Kingston, Obua, Glen, Driver.
Hibs: Stack, Thicot, Stevenson, Bamba, Wotherspoon, Murray, Rankin, McBride, Stokes, Riordan, Miller.