Joe McBride felt his Hibs youngsters were well worth their victory in yesterday’s SPFL Development League Edinburgh derby.
With the respective first-teams due to clash in the Championship at Easter Road on Sunday, there were no experienced players on show in the Newtongrange sunshine. Hibs goalkeeper Kleton Perntreou, 20, was the only non-teenager to feature, while the Hearts team was particularly young, with seven of their starting XI aged 17 or under. They even brought on a 14-year-old, Jason Gregory, for the last quarter of an hour.
By that point, Hibs were in command of the match, with goals from Jordan McGregor and Lewis Allan having cancelled out an early opener from Hearts defender Jordan McGhee.
“It’s always nice to win a derby,” said McBride, Hibs’ Under-20s development coach. “It was a bit different from the last time because both teams played so many youngsters ahead of the big game on Sunday.
“Hearts had a really young team out and we had a few 15-year-olds as well, so it’s nice to see them all playing at this level. Because of the temperature I don’t think the match was as frantic as usual but both teams tried to play football. We were pretty dominant and could have scored a couple more.”
Hearts took the lead with the first notable attempt of the match when McGhee curled a free-kick into the top corner from 25 yards out after six minutes. There were no clear chances for either side before Hibs equalised in the 41st minute when McGregor headed home a Conner Duthie corner from close range.
Ex-Hearts kid Aaron Scott almost gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of half-time but his free-kick from the edge of the box was brilliantly clawed away by Hearts keeper Kelby Mason.
The hosts went close early in the second half when Liam Henderson curled a 16-yard effort just beyond the far post. Hibs threatened in 54 minutes when Duthie headed over from a Ben Sterling corner. The visitors started to grab control of the game and, five minutes later, substitute Jack Breen saw a shot deflected over. Taylor Hendry headed wide from the resulting corner, taken by Duthie.
The Hibees got what proved to be the winner in 68 minutes when Allan headed home after McGregor had nodded a Duthie corner back across goal. Allan almost struck again with seven minutes remaining, but Mason did well to block his shot after he turned his man inside the box.
The impressive 16-year-old goalkeeper then turned away a Duthie free-kick as Hibs, despite dominating the second half, had to settle for a one-goal victory.
Hearts Under-20s coach Jack Ross praised his ultra-young team. He said: “As the game wore on, Hibs were the stronger side. We certainly tired a bit and the last 25 minutes were difficult but the desire to remain competitive was excellent. These games are what they say on the tin, though – they’re about development.
“As a club we’ve got a lot of fixtures at the moment and, through various circumstances, we’ve had to play boys who are still three and four years away from going full-time. We could probably have had a good case for asking for postponements because we’ve been stretched resource-wise, but we’re comfortable playing the young boys. They’ve done well, particularly in the two games this week. If they keep developing the way they are, they’ll give themselves a good opportunity to be professional footballers. There’s plenty to be pleased about.”
Hearts: Mason, Hutchings, Reid (Stevenson 60), K Smith (Gregory 75), McGhee, McKirdy, Morrison, Henderson, Oliver, Smith, Flanagan (Moore 70). Subs: Brown, Gullan.
Hibs: Perntreou, Sterling, Crane, Waugh, McGregor, Scott, Watson, Duthie, L Allan, Hendry (Shaw 75), Sinclair (Breen 59). Subs: Brennan, McKay.