HIBS bounced back from a 7-0 mauling at the hands of Rangers at Ibrox only 48 hours earlier with a first New Year’s Day win over Hearts in 20 years.
It was the perfect way for the Easter Road side to respond as they capitalised on a rusty performance from Hearts.
Only once in the entire 90 minutes did Hearts manage to string a telling sequence of passes together and, on that occasion, they hit the jackpot, Neil Pointon providing the perfect finish to a move which started in Hearts’ half of the field and involved Allan McManus, Allan Johnston, Gary Mackay, John Millar and then Johnston again.
With only seven minutes on the clock, it was the start Hibs must have been dreading in the wake of that hammering against Rangers and the Jambos in the 15,500 crowd sensed their side was about to make the perfect start to the New Year. There’s a good chance they would have if Hans Eskilsson had slotted away the golden chance that fell to him in the 20th minute but the big Swede didn’t even come close to hitting the target from 15 yards.
It was an effort which bore all the hallmarks of a player low on confidence, the striker, who took only a matter of minutes to open his account for the Gorgie side, having failed in eight games to add to his tally. With only goalkeeper Jim Leighton to beat, the former Sporting Lisbon player somehow managed to pull his shot some ten yards wide, much to Hibs’ relief.
It seemed to serve as a catalyst for Hibs, who battled back and into the lead with two terrific goals. Kevin McAllister, given a regular supply of the ball, discovered he could take Pointon on at will and proceeded to do so, dancing to the byeline to deliver the perfect cross for Michael O’Neill, who nipped in front of Gary Mackay to head home.
Both Pointon’s and O’Neill’s goals were a bit special, but they paled into the “ordinary” category as Kevin Harper stole the show with a stunning volley after Keith Wright had knocked Darren Jackson’s pass into his path. From that point onwards there was only going to be one winner and Hearts had French goalkeeper, Gilles Rousset, who had no chance with either goal, to thank for saving them from losing by a greater margin.
Rousset twice threw himself across goal after the interval to claw away shots from Andy Millen and McAllister, while leaving Jackson clutching his head in disbelief as he somehow stopped a point-blank downward header from the Scotland striker.
His heroics gave a glimmer of hope, but, unlike the opening derby of the season, there was no late intervention from John Robertson to earn the Tynecastle men a point on this occasion.
Two minutes into injury time, there was that dreaded feeling of déja vû among Hibs fans as Gordon Hunter was penalised in exactly the same area as John Robertson’s equaliser had arisen from in the previous clash between the teams.
But there was to be no fairytale ending for Robbo and his team-mates as Hunter rose to powerfully head Pasquale Bruno’s free-kick out of the danger area. And, as the whistle sounded, Easter Road erupted, not only with joy at the win but with more than a small measure of relief.
Hibs: Leighton, Millen, Tortolano, McGinlay, Tweed, Hunter, McAllister, Harper, Wright, Jackson, O’Neil.
Hearts: Rousset, McManus, Ritchie, Mackay, Pointon, Bruno, Johnston, Eskilsson, Robertson, Fulton, Millar.