HIBS are a team who seem to have everything going for them – on paper at least.
They have a £5 million training academy, the infrastructure, the depth of squad and even the available funds to be up there challenging at the top of the table.
And, at a time when everyone else is tightening their belts, they even managed to make eight signings during the summer months, but yesterday’s defeat at Tynecastle has left their own supporters questioning why they seem to be the ones left empty-handed when it really matters. They were odds-on favourites to win against their bitter rivals and their fans turned up, armed with Tesco and Morrisons carrier bags to poke fun at their rivals’ financial plight, expecting a party.
Once again, though, they were sent home disappointed and even the Hibs players can’t put their finger on the reason for their failure to get results on the big stage.
To give Pat Fenlon some slack, some of the criticism which has been levelled at him over the past few weeks has been unfair when you consider that they have only played two games of the new season. In truth, though, the Hibs supporters’ patience has been eroding noticeably since their 5-1 Scottish Cup defeat at the hands of their Edinburgh rivals two years ago and, more recently, their 7-0 European humiliation at the hands of Malmo. Losing to Hearts yesterday will simply have served to magnify their frustration.
Hearts are a club who have had to rely on their supporters’ fundraising efforts simply to stay alive. The administration process has left them with virtually nothing. They have no money, a skeleton squad – the majority of which is made up of youngsters – the task of overturning the 15-point deficit that they were given at the start of the campaign and the massive challenge of trying to avoid relegation from the top-flight this season.
If they could bottle the spirit shown by Ryan Stevenson yesterday and sell it by the litre, they would be millionaires.
The one thing they have in bucketloads is determination and heart and no one player encapsulates that better than the Tynecastle winger. He was left in agony after going into a challenge with Rowan Vine but refused to give in despite suffering what later turned out to be medial ligament damage. He is one of the only experienced players Hearts have left in their squad and you could see he was desperate to continue even after several minutes of treatment at the side of the pitch had failed to resolve the problem.
With Jamie Walker stripped and ready to come on, Stevenson still refused to throw in the towel and insisted to manager Gary Locke that he stay on the park.
He eventually had to give up the ghost six minutes after the initial injury but even then he was back out of the dressing-room and sitting in the stands, just behind the dugout, to cheer his team on to victory. He had his right leg protected by a brace but he was up there celebrating when Callum Paterson’s header hit the back of the net.
It wasn’t only him, though.
Jamie Hamill at one point looked as if he had been knocked out cold but still got back up on his feet and was involved in almost everything that the Tynecastle side created.
Scott Robinson battled for every blade of grass and fought with opposition players and the referee alike, as did Kevin McHattie.
There’s no doubting that the Hearts youngsters are blessed with plenty of skill but the majority are are slight in build.
What they lack in size though, they make up for in determination and, while you couldn’t fault the Hibs players for the effort they put in, the Hearts squad seem to have forged a siege mentality that makes them difficult to defeat, even in the face of adversity.