“Whatever happens, it happened” read the defiant banner from the HibeesBounce. But it could actually happen all over again.
Tynecastle 12 months ago and a stunning fightback from two goals down with ten minutes to play did, in the eyes of many Hibs fans, lay the foundations for that historic Scottish Cup triumph, one which sparked a party which continues to this day some nine months later.
It has, of course, got to end at some point, as that declaration from the HibeesBounce perhaps conceded but, having taken 114 years to get their hands on that elusive trophy, there was no way the men in green and white were going to let it go easily. And certainly not back at the home of their biggest rivals where this season’s competition had begun with that emphatic 8-1 victory over Bonnyrigg Rose.
True to their word, Neil Lennon’s players, as they had done throughout those two runs to Hampden finals last season, belied their Championship status, the Hibs boss pointing out that there was nothing between the sides despite Hearts currently sitting fourth in the Premier League.
Lennon admitted a 0-0 draw was probably a fair result, one which will see the Capital rivals face up to each other again a week on Wednesday fighting for a place in the quarter-finals against Ayr United or Clyde.
Although whether Hibs go into the replay as favourites was, he said, a matter for the bookies although his side might have a slight advantage now being at home.
“We were very good,” he said. “I thought we were very strong. It was impossible to play any kind of cohesive football on the pitch so we had to play the pitch the right way and we did. We were strong defensively, we could have taken care of the ball a little bit better in the final third but I thought we were excellent.
“I’m very, very pleased. There was nothing between the teams but we showed our pedigree on a big occasion; the mentality of the team was very good. Both teams had chances so, on reflection, a draw was probably a fair result but I am delighted with the way we went about our business.”
Lennon had taken what appeared to be a bold decision in handing a starting place to Ofir Marciano, the Israeli internationalist goalkeeper having tasted just 20 minutes of first-team action in more than two months.
That had come in the previous round against Bonnyrigg at this same stadium, his comeback from a knee operation cut short by a rib injury. But Lennon’s faith was vindicated as early as the third minute as Lennard Sowah’s pass picked out Esmael Goncalves whose first touch presented him with the chance to claim the game’s openining goal. Marciano, though, was quickly off his line to spread himself to block the ball and then grab it to his chest.
The moment, though, sparked the home fans, leaving Hibs to find their way into the game as they did, Lewis Stevenson feeding a ball down the line for James Keatings to fire in a low cross, Aaron Hughes marshalling Grant Holt superbly to prevent him testing Jack Hamilton in the Hearts goal.
It was a predictably full-blown Edinburgh derby, the pre-match handshakes between former team-mates Holt and Don Cowie and John McGinn and Goncalves giving way to a series of no-holds barred challenges, some of which might have tempted Willie Collum to reach for the yellow card, the official who normally has no hesitation in doing so, showing an unusual restraint.
His patience gave out, however, as Hibs defender Darren McGregor went in high and late on Cowie, leaving the Hearts captain in need of a lengthy spell of treatment which left him nursing his ribs.
There was little for the football purist to enjoy in the 100mph maelstrom but Jason Cummings turned Fraser Fyvie’s thumping clearance into a half-chance, taking the ball down and eluding Andraz Struna but his weaker right foot wasn’t good enough to loft it over Hamilton.
Goalscoring opportunities were few and far between, making it crucial that those which were engineered needed to be taken, Holt pouncing on a Keatings shot which had been blocked to breenge his way through two tackles before laying the ball off to Jason Cummings. The striker, seeking to score in a fifth-successive derby, saw his angled shot beaten away by Hamilton only for the ball to ricochet off Holt, the goalkeeper thankful to drop on it as it rolled goalwards.
Lennon, though, felt the veteran hitman had passed up a good opportunity saying: “I do not know why he did not shoot when he has broken clear and played Jason in but he’s actually put Jason in a wider position. The goal has opened up for him but Jason has had to come back in on his left foot.”
Hibs were certainly matching, and perhaps a little more, the greater physicality provided by the influx of players Ian Cathro had brought to Tynecastle during the January transfer window with Holt clearly revelling in his first Edinburgh derby, putting himself about on the pitch and more than willing to engage the home support as they attempted to taunt him. Cathro added to the home side’s presence with the introduction of the towering Bjorn Johnsen at half-time and, as at the beginning of the first half, Hibs had to withstand early pressure and, again, they had Marciano to thank for keeping them of level terms.
A Goncalves shot was blocked, the ball spinning up in the air and falling kindly for Johnsen, who must have thought he had scored only to see Marciano thrust out his left boot to block, the ball dropping to Jamie Walker, who couldn’t find a way through the mass of green and white in front of him.
Once more, though, Hibs weathered the storm to fight their way back into the game. Cummings, who had shouldered much of the work up front by himself, again a willing runner as he played off the final shoulder to force a corner off Hughes, Holt left beating the ground in frustration as he met Keatings’ cross with his head only to power the ball over before substitute Liam Fontaine nodded another corner wide.
It was rather reminiscent of a year ago when Hibs had become stronger as the game went on, a distinct air of anxiety falling on the home crowd who, following those two impressive victories over Rangers and Motherwell, had begun to look forward to this match with relish as they sensed the opportunity to gain a measure of revenge for last season’s defeat at the same stage of the competition.
Those feelings almost proved to be well founded as Cummings again set off on a lung-bursting run, collecting the ball and waiting before drilling a low cross in from the left to meet the inrushing Holt, who just couldn’t make the yards quickly enough to make proper connection at the back post.
But in the end, neither side could manufacture that vital opening, meaning a re-run of last season and, possibly, history repeating itself.