After ten months apart and four weeks of post-draw hype, Hearts and Hibs were finally reconciled yesterday to enthralling effect.
Given that this was the longest period in which the two Edinburgh sides hadn’t faced each other since the Hibees were relegated from the top flight for the 1998/99 season, there was always going to be heightened anticipation levels for this Scottish Cup fifth-round showdown at a packed-out Tynecastle. It didn’t disappoint, as a match of high drama ultimately left captivated neutrals with the desired outcome – another helping of the Edinburgh derby to relish a week tomorrow.
Let’s be clear though: for all that this was an epic cup tie, it certainly wasn’t one for the purists. Indeed its bruising, rumbustious nature was probably best typified by the sight of four players – including both captains – being forced off by injury within the opening 55 minutes.
The wretched combination of wind and rain led some of us in the press box to muse that an underwhelming, scrappy 0-0 draw might be on the cards. But the fact we were treated to such a thrilling encounter in the grimmest weather imaginable is testament to the desire of the players on both sides.
Abiola Dauda, Hearts’ new Nigerian forward, must surely have wondered what he’d let himself in for as he emerged for his pre-match warm-up in these bleakest of Scottish conditions. It spoke volumes about how highly regarded the on-loan Vitesse Arnhem striker is that he was trusted to replace the China-bound Osman Sow in the starting line-up for a game of such magnitude, while Juanma Delgado, the top scorer, was left on the bench. Although Sow wasn’t in the squad, he still played his part by rousing the crowd when he arrived on the pitch just minutes before kick-off to say his farewells. The Swede was ably assisted in cranking up the decibel levels by Paulo Sergio as the revered 2012 Scottish Cup-winning manager, who had been enjoying himself in Scotland this week after travelling from his native Portugal for this match, also took the acclaim of a fevered home support
Once the action got under way, the early exchanges were predictably scrappy, although Hibs seemed to settle into the game better than their hosts. John McGinn tested Neil Alexander, Jason Cummings had a goal correctly ruled out for offside and Anthony Stokes headed narrowly over. But, for all Hibs’ early promise, they were bludgeoned by a couple of moments of magic from Hearts pair Arnaud Djoum and Sam Nicholson and found themselves 2-0 down at the break. At this point, Hibs, without having done too much wrong, looked in serious peril. Indeed, their supporters would have been visited by that familiar sense of dread that has accompanied them on so many previous trips to Tynecastle. Underlining the sense of glee among the Hearts support at the half-way point, those in Section G of the Wheatfield Stand spent the first few minutes of the second half mockingly throwing around a Hibs scarf which had somehow found its way into that area from the disgruntled away end.
With Hearts in such buoyant mood and scenting a place in the last eight, few bargained on Hibs, who lost key man Dylan McGeouch to injury in the first half, finding a way back in. However, Alan Stubbs’ players weren’t in any mood to follow the familiar Edinburgh derby script and implode on enemy territory. Instead they showed a level of resolve which has been more readily associated with Hearts in this fixture over the years.
Early in the second half, the visitors seized control of proceedings and had Hearts pegged back for long periods. The Jambos did have a couple of opportunities on the counter-attack to kill the tie, but, even as the clock ticked, the feeling persisted that, such was the flow of the game, if Hibs could get one goal, they would have a good chance of getting a second.
McGinn stepped things up a notch and gave an indication of why the Hibs fans love him so much that they now revel in singing “he’s better than Zidane”.
Liam Henderson also grew in influence, while Marvin Bartley, arguably the best player on the pitch, was busy stifling the life out of Hearts’ midfield. Niklas Gunnarsson’s impact after replacing captain David Gray at right-back was also notable. Hearts, of course, weren’t helped by losing skipper Alim Ozturk to injury, meaning they played the last 35 minutes with the yet-to-convince Juwon Oshaniwa at left-back and teenager Jordan McGhee at centre-back.
For all that Hibs merited a replay, the manner in which they secured it – scoring twice in the last 11 minutes – couldn’t have been envisaged by many accustomed to a fixture where Hearts have historically been the team inflicting late agony on their bitterest rivals. After the excellent Paul Hanlon forced in his stoppage-time equaliser, Hibs fans celebrated as if they had won the tie. In the press room afterwards, Sunshine On Leith could be heard blaring through the wall from the neighbouring away dressing-room.
Hibs have a boldness about them now which hasn’t been evident for some time. They will fancy their chances in the replay, but, equally, Hearts, booed off by their own fans, are aggrieved at how things panned out yesterday and will feel the need to reassert themselves over their rivals after four derbies without a win. Everything is set for another riveting spectacle at Easter Road in eight days’ time.