SOME Hearts supporters remain unconvinced about Paulo Sergio remaining as manager.
Should he require to present his case for a new contract to directors this summer, pointing to an impeccable Edinburgh derby record guarantees him a very strong argument. Under Sergio, Hearts have completely steamrollered Hibs. Yesterday was the latest episode in a series of dominance by the Tynecastle club.
Goals from Craig Beattie – his first in this fixture – and Suso Santana saw Hearts become the first team to win the first three Capital derbies of a season since the inception of the Premier Division in 1975. Sergio, since succeeding Jim Jefferies last August, has a record of three wins from three with no Hibs player scoring in a derby during his tenure.
The wider picture includes a statistic showing Hearts have now gone ten matches without defeat against Hibs since May 2009. They were again worthy victors in this one, showcasing a strength of mind, discipline and no little motivation considering they did not receive any salaries as scheduled on Friday. Their resolve under such circumstances can only be commended.
Hibs got what they deserved from a performance which lacked belief and soul. Recent results had improved for manager Pat Fenlon but his first visit to Tynecastle cut the prosperity short. Sergio’s team were simply too strong, both in heart and mind. The only surprise was that it took until the third minute of stoppage time at the end of the game for them to score a second goal and secure victory.
“Our strategy for the second half was to kill the game sooner,” admitted Sergio. “We had a strong start to the match, we scored and we were playing well with good intensity. We lost Stephen Elliott (with an injured hip) and had to change things a little. We knew a reaction from Hibs would come and credit to them, they are making each victory harder and harder for us. People are saying to me this is a record because it’s the first time any team has won the three Edinburgh derbies before the split.
“I have lots of respect for our opponents but I am very proud of my players. I know that in hard conditions they know to be together and fight for our jersey.”
He was referring, of course, to the wages situation but was not keen to elaborate. “We had to speak about that two days ago but it’s not the moment to speak about it right now,” he added.
The standout features of this game were the two goals, both equally majestic for different reasons. Beattie’s was an illustration of teamwork and vision as Ian Black’s pinpoint, crossfield pass was taken in his stride by the striker and poked underneath Graham Stack, the Hibs goalkeeper. Suso’s strike in stoppage time was a moment of individual brilliance. He took the ball for a run down the left, skinning Jorge Claros before stroking the ball into the corner of the net. “They were two great goals and I’m very happy for everybody,” continued Sergio. “I don’t want to speak about one player but if you think about the hard times Suso has had . . . he had a knee problem, then recovered and started to play and gets a hamstring injury. He deserves this happiness and I’m so proud of him.”
With such an attacking Hearts line-up named, it was somewhat surprising seeing Hibs go on the offensive from kick-off. It didn’t last. Andy Webster threatened first on 20 minutes with a header from Danny Grainger’s corner which was fisted away by Stack. Before then, George Francomb had to be replaced following a nasty clash of heads with Rudi Skacel, who instantly incurred a swollen eye but opted to remain on the field.
Hearts had a fortunate escape in the 26th minute when Pa Kujabi’s low ball across the hosts’ six-yard box evaded Hibs’ attackers with the goal wide open. Then came a moment of utter beauty as Black and Beattie combined to perfection and put Hearts 1-0 ahead.
Black collected a loose ball from defence and strode forward to deliver a 50-yard pass onto Beattie’s toe. The striker’s instant control was sublime as he took the ball down to sprint in behind the Hibs defence and calmly prod his finish beyond Stack. It was difficult to decide which was more impressive – Black’s vision for the pass or Beattie’s exquisite control and composure thereafter.
“It was a nice pass from Blackie,” said Beattie. “I didn’t have much to do he played it right on my foot. My touch took the defender out the game and I’m delighted with the goal.” The former Celtic forward might have had a second ten minutes from half-time but could only volley into the Roseburn Stand after Paul Hanlon tamely headed Skacel’s long pass into the air 20 yards from goal.
Defensively Hibs were disjointed and failed to deal with balls into space behind them. Hearts grew in strength as the interval approached, although Elliott had to be replaced after injuring himself in a collision with Stack.
Hibs, having hitherto offered little in the way of an attacking threat, went close twice inside a minute at the start of the second period through substitute Matt Doherty. The full-back’s back-post header from David Wotherspoon’s free-kick ricocheted off Darren Barr and was bouncing into the Hearts net until Beattie intervened to hook it over the crossbar. Doherty’s next header seconds later was hooked to safety by Andy Driver.
Garry O’Connor was introduced to supplement the visitors’ attack just after the hour mark but had little impact. Roy O’Donovan’s header from Doherty’s cross was stopped by Jamie MacDonald’s foot on 75 minutes. The goalkeeper knew little about it but, in his defence, he had been inactive for much of the afternoon due to the paucity of Hibs’ forward line.
Just when it looked like Hearts would settle for a 1-0 victory, they produced a rousing finish. Suso, introduced just moments earlier for Skacel, collected a ball from defence on the left flank and set off towards goal. He mesmerised Jorge Claros with some ball trickery before stroking a precise shot from the acutest of angles past Stack and into the corner of the net. And that was that. Another Edinburgh derby, another Hearts triumph. Even without wages. “You saw 100 per cent commitment and people throwing their body on the line for the team,” explained Beattie. “It’s a difficult situation that I don’t even want to get into. Once you wake up on the morning of a derby game, whether you’ve been paid or not, whether you’re the richest man or the poorest man in the world, it doesn’t matter. Once you go out there you forget about a lot of it. It’s about doing what you have to do to get three points.
“I just signed a short-term contract till the end of the season. There were no guarantees (about whether wages would be paid on time), nothing special. It was my decision. If I didn’t want to take that chance I wouldn’t have come. But that wasn’t the case, I wanted to come here. I knocked back offers from a few other clubs to come here and I was more than happy with that. I wasn’t looking for any special treatment or special guarantees. I just wanted to join this squad and go out and play.
“I’m certainly confident in my ability. I know once I get games I’ll get goals. Rangers-Celtic is something else but this, as far as Edinburgh is concerned, is the big derby. I’ve had a great day, scoring on my derby debut and getting three points.”