HIBS’ record signing Ulises de la Cruz announced his arrival on the derby stage with two goals in a defeat over their greatest rivals which promised to be embarrassingly convincing.
Hibs 2, Hearts 1
October 21, 2001
That Alex McLeish’s side should win this Edinburgh derby by the minimum margin was due in part to the visitors’ spirit, but primarily to the onset of a curious apprehension in the home players.
Just 36 seconds had elapsed when the Hibees’ new signing demonstrated his ability, collecting Alen Orman’s clever pass before rifling an unsaveable left-foot shot past Antii Niemi from almost 25 yards.
From the moment De la Cruz scored the first of his two goals, the Tynecastle players, until midway through the second half, looked like men groping their way through a thick mist, utterly without a sense of direction and seemingly lacking the will to save themselves.
The goal from Stephen Simmons which reduced the leeway gave Craig Levein’s side encouragement which had previously seemed unlikely, but the closeness of the finish should not be allowed to obliterate the fact that Hibs, with the majority of the good players on show, were overall the better side by a considerable distance.
Until Stevie Fulton replaced Andy Webster early in the second half and began playing some accurate passes, Hearts had nobody who came close to the intelligent and perceptive play of Grant Brebner and John O’Neil in the Hibs midfield, and certainly nobody with the pace of De la Cruz and Alen Orman on the right of the home side.
Even in a middle-distance race, a tardy start can prove to be irrecoverably damaging. Hearts were left the equivalent of ten lengths by the astonishing first of De la Cruz’s goals and Hibs, immediately seizing on the potential of their advantage, thereafter ensured a relentless pace which gave their rivals little hope of getting back into contention.
The quick movement, crisp and precise passing and alertness in the tackle of the Easter Road side during that first half would be as impressive as either set of supporters will have seen in this fixture in many years, including during Hibs’ 6-2 victory which came a year before.
While that much-celebrated performance was ultimately overwhelming, it did not contain the sustained excellence of yesterday’s demonstration, and during Hibs’ ascendancy Hearts were fortunate not to fall further than two goals behind. It was Orman who provided the supply for the opener, pushing the ball forward to De la Cruz on the right.
The wing-back, a few yards outside the right corner of the penalty area, left-footed his curling shot high to the right of Niemi, the ball dropping just under the bar at the far corner.
Nobody will ever complete a double more easily than De la Cruz, who had only to push the ball over the line from two yards after Paco Luna had received O’Neil’s pass on the left, taken the ball to the by-line and watched his chip deflected to the feet of his team-mate.
Hearts, by comparison, were sluggish almost to the point of immobility. At times seeming paralysed by dread of what may happen next, their challenges were soft, their passing lacked conviction and they appeared incapable of competing with the pace at which the home side went about their work.
Unsurprisingly, Craig Levein put on Fulton for Andy Webster and withdrawing Scott Severin from midfield into defence. He also replaced the ineffective Stephane Adam with Kevin McKenna in an attempt to upset home defenders. Thriving on the long, high ball, McKenna caused one or two upsets, but even if Hearts spent more time than before in their opponents’ territory, it was Hibs who contrived the better chances, breaking at speed into threatening areas.
The improbably close finish to the match was ensured by Simmons’s terrific strike, the young midfielder drilling the ball right-footed from 15 yards to the left of Nick Colgan after Juanjo’s cross, from a short corner kick, had been deflected towards him by defender Franck Sauzee.
Hibs: Colgan, Fenwick, Sauzee, Laursen, Orman, De la Cruz, Brebner, O’Neil, Murray, Brewster, Luna.
Hearts: Niemi, Maybury, Pressley, Webster, Mahe, Juanjo, Severin, Simmons, Flogel, Adam, Fuller.