James Collins today described the goal which set Hibs on the path to derby day glory as “the best moment of my career”.
The £200,000 striker’s opener was only his fourth goal since his summer move from Swindon Town but, he insisted, it’s one he’ll never forget, coming as it did before a near-capacity crowd of 20,106.
And, although the 22-year-old admitted his culpability in surrendering possession to allow Hearts substitute David Smith to run half the length of the pitch to equalise as his shot deflected off Easter Road defender Ryan McGivern after Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams had been unable to hold his initial effort, Collins was adamant the final result was never in doubt.
The win catapulted Hibs into the top six of the Scottish Premiership table, Terry Butcher’s players having lost just once in eight matches – away to champions Celtic – since the big Englishman took over from Pat Fenlon whose last match as manager was a League Cup defeat by Hearts.
Collins said: “I’ve scored some important goals in my career, but that was the most important. It’s the best feeling I have ever had, to score in an Edinburgh derby, to win the game and in front of a crowd like that was something special. I couldn’t be happier. But I was confident we were going to win one way or the other because we are on such a high at the minute I don’t think many can stop us. We’ve only been beaten once in eight games, at Celtic where people don’t expect you to get anything and yet we could have taken a draw that day which would have meant no defeats in eight.
“The difference is that we are confident, we are scoring goals, we are winning games and that can only spur us on. We’re now in the top six but we’ve got a big game on Sunday away to Dundee United and if we can take something from that then it will have been a great Festive period for us which is exactly what we needed.”
Collins admitted he was beginning to wonder where a goal was coming from as Hearts stood firm despite finding themselves under continual assault, Gary Locke’s players throwing themselves in front of every shot.
It was reminiscent of the last clash between the two when Hibs dominated the opening half-hour only to fall victim to a sucker punch as Ryan Stevenson claimed the only goal of the game. However, Collins insisted Hibs are now far more dangerous, particularly from set pieces such as the Liam Craig corner which led to the opening goal.
He said: “The gaffer has nailed in to us that we keep going and keep going. We are looking dangerous from set pieces and again we got a goal from a corner. My job is to be on the goalkeeper, Paul Hanlon got it down and I just managed to turn and get my shot away into the roof of the net. The whole place just went mental. Until you play in an Edinburgh derby you just don’t know how it feels. It was unbelievable.”
Collins’ good work, however, appeared to be undone when the Jambos hauled themselves level ten minutes later only for 17-year-old Jordan McGhee to bring down Lewis Stevenson with a needless foul, leaving Hibs skipper Craig to claim victory from the penalty spot, the midfielder praised by Butcher for his composure in the white-hot atmosphere.
His team-mate Collins though, claimed he had total faith in Craig saying: “I was 100 per cent sure it was going in, Liam does it every day in training.”
Meanwhile, Butcher revealed how he invoked Hibs fan Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph to stir his players ahead of his first Capital derby. He said: “I said to the players before the game that it’s very much like Andy Murray when he went for the men’s singles final.
“He was carrying the whole nation on his shoulders – but he just thought about it as a tennis match and all our players were thinking about was winning a football match.”