COULD Hibs stay on top of the League? That was the question after they took over the leadership on goal difference from flu-hit, idle Celtic with a 7-0 humiliation of Hearts at Tynecastle.
Unstoppable Hibs were the team of the moment and the only blemish on their derby performance was the third booking received by John Brownlie for a needless foul on Andy Lynch with his team already seven up.
Hearts, who had conceded only three goals in 131 hours of league games at home, lost three in 26 minutes and trailed by five at half-time. Indeed, only three excellent saves by goalkeeper Kenny Garland from Pat Stanton, Alan Gordon and Jimmy O’Rourke prevented the first match of the year from being a double-figure tale of woe.
Hearts contributed to their predicament through some slack defensive work, but Hibs’ teamwork, pace and understanding left the hosts, uncharitably, without any hope.
Jim Brown was the one Hearts player who tried to compete with Hibs but he couldn’t raise much response around him. It might have been closer if either Tommy Murray or Donald Park had scored in the first five minutes before Hibs began to display their devastating striking power. It was Hearts’ third successive defeat and put them six points behind the leaders. But Hibs, with 11 points from a possible 12 and 25 goals in the Festive period were in near invincible form.
Alex Cropley was a stand-out in midfield for Hibs and certainly Gordon seemed to have proved himself the best centre-forward in Scotland.
At half-time, Hearts introduced Andy Lynch for Eric Carruthers, but there wasn’t much improvement from a team that was totally demoralised at that stage. The 36,000 fans at least saw plenty of goals this time in contrast to the goalless affairs of past seasons – even if it was one-sided.
O’Rourke blasted Hibs into the lead with his left foot in the ninth minute. Gordon was next on the scoresheet after Alex Edwards found him with an inch-perfect pass on the 16-minute mark and Arthur Duncan made it three with a trundling shot in 26 minutes after Cropley had nodded a Clunie clearance into the winger’s path. As a contest it was all over, but Hibs made it an exhibition with their precision football. Anderson stretched for a Duncan centre in 35 minutes and Cropley volleyed a glorious left-footer past Garland from more than 20 yards. Two minutes later a Cropley cross and a Duncan header signalled Hibs’ 50th league goal of the season.
Herriot stopped an angled drive from Ford at the start of the second half and soon Hibs were slicing through the Tynecastle defence again. O’Rourke slid the ball home to establish himself as No.1 goalscorer in the country in 56 minutes and the final goal didn’t arrive until there were only 15 minutes left when Duncan squared the ball to Gordon, whose header went in off the post.