Something had to give. One side had managed just one league win at home since February and the other a solitary victory on the road in that period.
When the dust settled on the second Edinburgh derby of the season those statistics may have changed only marginally – but enough to emphasise the gulf which currently exists between Hibs and Hearts.
While the Jambos headed home for Gorgie, their record of nine derbies without defeat intact, one which will now stretch back almost three years by the time the Capital’s two SPL sides do battle again at Tynecastle in mid-March, Hibs heralded the New Year in a fashion which has become all too familiar to their fans, namely defeat.
Pat Fenlon’s players could point to a couple of hard luck stories, but they will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears, particularly those in maroon who were intent only in rejoicing in the 3-1 final scoreline.
For Hearts those goals from Ryan McGowan, Andy Webster and substitute Rudi Skacel extended an unbeaten run to four matches which has returned ten points and very much put Paulo Sergio’s players back in the chase for third place.
It is all the more remarkable given the financial problems which have engulfed Hearts over the past few months, their players still waiting for their December wages and an SPL investigation into why that should be due to get under way tomorrow.
Out of pocket they may be, but Hearts have hit a rich vein of form, Marius Zaliukas’ own goal barely a minute after McGowan had nodded his side in front the only one they’ve conceded in those four games.
Little wonder then the celebrations which greeted the final blast of referee Calum Murray’s whistle appeared perhaps a bit more exuberant if that’s possible when a derby has been won.
For Hibs, though, it was a case of more of the same, good in parts but overall just not good enough, Fenlon now with a single point to show from the five matches since he officially took charge, a record which the Irishman knows has to be turned, and quickly if the Easter Road outfit are not to find themselves scrapping it out with, most likely, Dunfermline to avoid the drop.
Hibs and the Pars are in danger of finding themselves cast adrift at the foot of the table, the clash between the two sides at East End Park a week on Saturday having taken on added significance with each passing week and their respective failures to notch a win, something the Edinburgh side haven’t done in nine league outings while Jim McIntyre’s players have to go back to their victory at Easter Road – one which finally brought Colin Calderwood’s miserable tenure to an end – in early November.
Fenlon, of course, has been left to pick up the pieces following Calderwood’s sacking, making his first move into the transfer market to snap up Sligo Rovers’ prolific striker Eoin Doyle, the Hibs fans getting only a glimpse of the new boy as he was thrown on for the final five minutes.
Not a great deal of time for either him or Garry O’Connor, also introduced late on as he struggles to overcome a badly bruised foot, to make much of an impact but, Fenlon would undoubtedly argue, time enough with Hibs trailing for a second time to Webster’s goal of two minutes earlier.
Going with three up, however, was rendered meaningless when, as so often happens as one side pushes for an equaliser, the other hits on the break, John Sutton getting the better of Sean O’Hanlon to set up Skacel for a third goal, one which Fenlon and co would argue put an unfair reflection on the final scoreline.
Not that it matters one jot, but Fenlon insisted he’d seen enough from his players in that second half to suggest happier times lie ahead. He said: “I’m disappointed for the players because I do not think we deserved to lose the game, 3-1 in particular.
“They gave a decent performance in the second half and if we get that, the application and the attitude, in games over the next few weeks we will get ourselves out of the problems we are in.”
Fenlon could argue, with some justification, that while Hearts had enjoyed the better of the opening 45 minutes by far, the visitors’ first and second goals had come somewhat against the run of play.
After watching a David Templeton effort clip the outside of a post and go wide and then Mehdi Taouil stretch to send a Stephen Elliott cutback over, Hibs might just have felt they’d finally got the break they’d been craving for weeks when goalkeeper Graham Stack brought off a tremendous save, throwing himself low to his right to push away Ian Black’s penalty kick minutes before the interval.
Stack’s heart, as was that of Callum Booth, was probably in his mouth as Elliott just nicked a terribly slack passback from the Hibs youngster ahead of him, the goalkeeper catching the striker and leaving referee Calum Murray with no option but to point to the spot.
Thankfully for Stack, Murray deemed a yellow card rather than red sufficient and with that save behind them, Hibs set about making the most of that escape only to see Black thunder in a shot which Stack fingertipped over only for Webster to get his head to the subsequent corner, the goalkeeper doing well to block his effort before McGowan powered in to nod home.
Referee Murray and his main stand assistant Francis Andrews blundered in the eyes of Fenlon, having failed to spot Elliott standing offside and directly in front of Stack, leaving the goalkeeper unsighted to the last second as he ducked under Webster’s header.
“I’ve seen it again and he looks offside,” insisted Fenlon, who added: “We probably have not had the rub of the green since I have been here but that will hopefully change over a period of time.”
Hibs, though, shrugged off that disappointment to equalise almost immediately, Ivan Sproule racing clear to whip over a cross which Danny Galbraith returned across the six yard box for Zaliukas to turn into his own net.
Martin Scott should have applied a finishing touch to another Sproule cross before McGowan’s long throw was brought down by Sutton who left it for Webster to knock home.
That McGowan probably shouldn’t even have been on the pitch was another source of grievance for Hibs, the young Australian having reacted badly to a poor Sproule challenge by thrusting his head into the winger’s chest.
Incredibly, though, neither Murray or assistant Charlie Smith saw anything wrong although SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny will inevitably take a close view, Fenlon left to reflect: “I have seen that as well and if you go by the letter of the law it’s a red card although you don’t want to advocate players being sent off.”
Whatever McGowan’s punishment – if there is to be one – might be, Fenlon felt the real crime in both goals was his side’s inability to deal with balls thrown into their penalty area, something which has troubled Hibs long before his arrival on the scene.