Analysis: Five takeaways from the derby for Hibs and Hearts
Hibs made it eight derbies unbeaten with a 1-0 win over Hearts at Easter Road tonight. Here are five takeaways from the first top flight meeting between the rivals since the spring of 2014...
Kyle Lafferty needs support
Chosen by Craig Levein as the lone striker in a cautious 4-5-1 formation, Kyle Lafferty endured a thankless task up front for Hearts.
Time after time, Christophe Berra or John Souttar would launch long balls forward in the vague direction of Lafferty in order to bypass the Hearts midfield - through necessity, rather than choice.
But more often than not the ball would be won by a Hibs defender, or Lafferty would knock the ball down only for Hearts to lose possession as a green shirt nipped in to steal back possession.
He was visibly frustrated with proceedings, and cut an isolated figure in attack. Levein threw on first Esmael Goncalves and, late on, Cole Stockton, as he went with a 4-3-3 in a bid to salvage something from the game.
But before the substitutions, even before Hibs had scored, Levein had Ross Callachan playing in a number 10 role with Jamie Walker further back.
When he shuffled his pack and changed things up, with Walker playing further forward, Hearts began to look more dangerous.
Levein conceded after the game that he might have got it wrong in terms of the personnel that started at Easter Road, with particular reference to Harry Cochrane, a half-time sub for Rafal Grzelak.
But Levein also had David Milinkovic on the bench and while he has previously spoken of his desire not to rush the winger into action, Hearts were crying out for a different dimension last night - the Frenchman could have provided a spark on the flank in the closing stages against a tiring Hibs defence.
Hearts will be boosted by the return of both Arnaud Djoum and Don Cowie from injury but with the transfer window coming up, Levein will surely have ‘wingers’ written in block capitals at the top of his shopping list.
Dylan McGeouch’s contract situation
John McGinn may have picked up the Ladbrokes Man of the Match award, but his fellow midfielder Dylan McGeouch can have good reason to feel aggrieved at the decision.
The former Celtic player appears to have finally conquered the injury problems that blighted his first couple of seasons at Easter Road and with each week is showing why Hibs brought him to the Capital on a three-year deal in August 2015.
However, with the 24-year-old entering the final six months of his contract, Hibs must be thinking about extending his stay.
While not an obvious source of goals or assists, McGeouch’s strength is in retaining possession.
Time after time against Hearts, McGeouch picked up the ball in a crowded area before taking it out of danger, looking up, and finding a pass to keep the attack moving.
Much is made of his midfield partner McGinn’s contribution in the centre of the park but McGeouch was the stand-out performer last night, dictating the tempo as Hibs won the midfield battle handsomely.
If McGeouch plays well, Hibs play well and with McGinn increasingly linked with a move away from Easter Road, keeping McGeouch at the club might go some way to placating fans anxious at the prospect of life without McGinn.
Hearts desperately need a solution at left back
Not since the likes of Adam Eckersley or Kevin McHattie have Hearts had a dependable left back.
Faycal Rherras, Lennard Sowah, Andraz Struna, Liam Smith and occasionally Igor Rossi were deployed there throughout last season, Nigerian internationalist Juwon Oshaniwa was an expensive, barely utilised flop, while this season already Grzelak, Michael Smith, Jamie Brandon, and Ashley Smith-Brown have performed left-back duties, and Connor Randall has played a left wing-back role when Craig Levein has opted for a 3-5-2 formation.
Brandon endured a torrid time against Martin Boyle last night, with the Hibs wideman getting past him on three or four occasions, leading to the youngster being booked and replaced after less than an hour on the park.
Injuries certainly limited Levein’s options at Easter Road - Smith-Brown, supposedly Hearts’ best left-back on the books, is continually crocked - but with the January transfer window coming up, Hearts must be looking at bringing in a left-back to sort out what has become a problem position for them.
Efe Ambrose is back to his best
Hibs defender Efe Ambrose is fast recapturing the form that made him a first-team regular at Celtic.
Often derided by opposition fans for his calamitous nature, it’s easy to forget that, at this level, he is a classy defender.
Last night he did not put a foot wrong, dominating in the air, tackling strongly, reading the game well and carrying the ball out of defence.
Much has been written about Paul Hanlon’s form - and Ambrose’s centre-half partner has been impressive - but the Nigerian is playing towards the peak of his powers and proving himself as one of the best defenders in Scotland right now.
It’s great to have the league derby back
A crowd of over 20,000, football under the lights, and the first league meeting between the rivals since April 2014 - is there anything better than an Edinburgh derby?
While the Hearts fans were understandably quieter than their Hibs counterparts, both sets of supporters helped provide a tasty atmosphere for the first derby of the season.
The impressive ‘tifo’ display prior to the game in the Famous Five stand - green and silver cards and a banner reading ‘The Hibs go marching on’ - added to the feeling that this was a big, big match.
The cup ties over the past two seasons were special because of the ‘one-off’ nature; with the clubs in separate divisions, punters were missing the guaranteed three or four derby matches a season.
With Hibs back in the top flight, and at least two more derbies to play this season, fans from both sides as well as neutrals must already be eagerly anticipating the next meeting at Tynecastle, another night-time affair on Wednesday, December 27.