Alan Stubbs confessed to being mystified having watched Hibs lose a derby they could and probably should have won.
It will be of little consolation to him that he isn’t the first Easter Road boss to have suffered that hollow feeling after taking on Capital rivals Hearts.
It’s become the common theme of many such matches, Hibs failing to capitalise when on top and paying the price; and once again it was the story of these 90 minutes.
Hibs may have gone into the game as second favourites in the eyes of many, but there was no inferiority complex from Stubbs’ side as they made a mockery of the notion that they are a distant third force in that race for the Championship title.
And but for a missed penalty from the usually reliable Liam Craig, the skipper drilling his low shot inches wide after Danny Handling had tangled with Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, they could well have been celebrating a notable victory at Tynecastle.
It wasn’t a game-changing moment, the scoreline remained locked at 0-0 and that was how it looked like staying as the minutes ticked away until a scrappy, largely forgettable match exploded, both sides ending up with ten men as first Scott Robertson for Hibs and then Hearts striker Osman Sow saw red.
There were ugly scenes at the end, the red-haired Craig clearly raging as he headed for the tunnel having become embroiled in an altercation with Jambos winger Jamie Walker, his anger such that rumours began to fly around that he’d been sent off before he could reach the away dressing-room.
Such gossip proved unfounded, but Craig’s frustration was understandable, the skipper no doubt well aware of the significance of him fluffing his spot-kick coming as it did as he and his team-mates enjoyed the best of the opening 45 minutes.
Goalmouth incidents throughout the 90 minutes were few and far between, but just when it looked as if the match would end in stalemate, Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson unleashed a stunning drive from 25 yards which careered into the net behind Mark Oxley.
Stubbs felt Robertson could have done better in trying to prevent Nicholson getting his shot away, but acknowledged the midfielder, having picked up a yellow card earlier, was wary of earning himself a second.
He might have been better taking that risk, as that red card did come his way three minutes later, referee Willie Collum adjudging him to have pushed his former Dundee United team-mate Prince Buaben inside the penalty area.
Off he went and Buaben himself put the match beyond Hibs with a penalty, although Farid El Alagui threw them a lifeline as the match moved into four minutes of added on time, taking full advantage of a mistake by Hearts skipper Danny Wilsion to drive home a low shot.
But it was too little too late for Alan Stubbs and his players, who had seen the Jambos towering striker Sow shown a straight red card for an elbow on Michael Nelson.
Stubbs had no complaints, saying: “You can’t put two hands on someone and not expect a penalty. It was very easy for the referee to give it.”
The Hibs head coach, though, felt that while Collum had “in general” controlled the game quite well, he’d missed a couple of other flying elbows.
It was the final result, however, that was of greatest disappointment to him. He said: “I thought we warranted something out of the game. I didn’t think we looked in any trouble but then, suddenly, we find ourselves 2-0 down.
“Farid’s goal was a crumb of comfort, but I feel disappointed for the fans and the players because it had 0-0 all over it. The least we should have got from the game was a draw so to come away with nothing makes you feel as if you have been robbed.”
There was a surprise for the 3500 Hibs fans who’d travelled to Tynecastle to back Stubbs in his first Edinburgh derby, central defender Paul Hanlon ruled out with a knee problem, meaning a first outing of the season for veteran stopper Nelson, while Danny Handling made an immediate return to action having missed the opening victory over Livingston through suspension.
Hibs would have been hoping for an early chance to test Hearts goalkeeper Hamilton, the 20-year-old given the nod ahead of emergency signing Lee Hollis after both Robbie Neilson’s first and second choices Neil Alexander and Scott Gallacher were ruled out through injury. And they got it when Billy King conceded the game’s first corner, inviting Craig to swing the ball right on top of Hamilton which he did, the youngster responding with a strong punch clear.
If Hibs had gone into the first Capital derby of the season as second favourites there was no sign of any inferiority complex, Stubbs’ side enjoying the better of the opening exchanges without really troubling Hamilton, although Nelson did go close with a backpost header from Craig’s free-kick.
There was concern, though, in the away dug-out when Nelson was forced off temporarily with a cut to the side of his right eye, the victim of another flailing arm from Sow, Craig dropping in beside Jordon Forster and showing his defensive capabilities with a perfectly timed tackle to halt King’s threatening run into the penalty area.
El Alagui had been winning almost everything at one end of the park, causing both Danny Wilson and Alim Ozturk problems, but the striker’s aerial prowess came to Hibs’ aid as he rose to nod away a dangerous free-kick from Jason Holt.
It was scrappy stuff, though, a typical derby affair not helped by a gusting wind whipping around Tynecastle with referee Collum’s whistle working overtime as he tried to curb the adrenalin coursing through both sets of players’ veins.
And the official came up with a big call in the 31st minute as El Alagui’s flick found Handling who managed to knock the ball over Hamilton only to be clattered by the goalkeeper.
Collum had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Soft it was, but it left Craig with a great opportunity to put his side ahead, but the midfielder didn’t even hit the target, sending his low shot wide of Hamilton’s left hand post.
The Hearts fans erupted with relief and that miss appeared to galvanise Neilson’s men as, for the first time, they began to exert some concerted pressure on Hibs’ goal, Mark Oxley going down to his right to take Nicholson’s shot and just seconds before the end of the first half, Jordan McGhee thought he’d put the Jambos ahead, firing in a superb volley which whistled inches wide with Oxley looking beaten.
Hibs had shackled Sow well throughout the opening 45 minutes, but the 6ft 4in Swede almost made an instant impact at the beginning of the second half, outstripping David Gray before fizzing the ball across the six-yard line, only to find there were no takers in a maroon shirt.
The hour mark came and went with no sign of a goal, but Craig’s barge in to the back of Buaben 21 yards out and dead centre gave Ozturk the opportunity to do something about that. However, the Hearts defender blasted his free-kick into the defensive wall much to his obvious frustration.
The final ball was letting both sides down, play fractured and lacking cohesion. Either a mistake or a flash of genius was required to win the game and it was the latter, Nicholson stepping past Robertson and then crashing an unstoppable left foot shot high beyond Oxley.
And two minutes later Hearts doubled their lead, Robertson’s clumsy challenge allowing Buaben to put the game beyond Hibs. Then came Sow’s red card before the game ended with tempers boiling over after El Alagui had trimmed Hearts’ lead.