Edinburgh derby point underlines rapid improvement in Hearts as midfield ace hails backing of fans
The jubilation which met Crystal Thomas' late equaliser at Easter Road on Sunday, both in the stands and on the park, was agut punch to take for the Hearts players and fans in attendance.
However, the delight on display from the home side further underlines the rapid ascent of their rivals across 2022. Eva Olid’s team were just six minutes away from establishing a seven-point lead over their capital counterparts as the first round of fixtures come to the end in the SWPL 1. As it stands, they still retain a healthy four-point lead in fourth place and the coveted best-of-the-rest tag with Celtic, Rangers and Glasgow City always expected to pull away at the top of the table.
It’s a far cry from last season when a final-day victory over Partick Thistle meant the Gorgie Girls finished just outside of the bottom two. Further highlighting the changing dynamic was their performance in the derbies as Hibs won 3-0, 3-1 and 4-1 to ram home their superiority.
Cailin Michie only joined Hearts at the beginning of this month after impressing on trial, but having played for Glasgow City last term she is fully aware of the journey the club has taken over the past few months as the move into semi-professionalism and the signing of experienced full-time players has vaulted them up the league table. Last season a draw at Easter Road, regardless of circumstance, would have been an excellent result. But this term?
“I think you can see in our mindset that we're disappointed to have come away with a point,” she said. “It's a completely different dynamic to last season where we're thinking "can we compete?" Now they're giving us a lot of respect. There was a lot of space in which to build and we should have had more confidence in ourselves to punish them for giving us that space.
“It's good for the club to show that we're competing and we want more from these games, for sure. It's up to us to show that we can go and get it and we're no longer the underdogs.
“When we got the opportunity to move it into their half we rushed it a lot. We had a lot of space in the midfield where I don't think we made the correct decisions, especially when getting into the final third.
“I think it comes down to us not doing enough to take control of the game when in possession. We defended OK, but we've given up a number of chances, including what ended up being a scrappy goal.
“The way the game went we'll take the point, which solidifies our place in fourth. But we're disappointed we didn't make more of the opportunities we had to put a bit more pressure on them.”
So did nerves play a part in Hearts’ lack of poise and execution in the final third, what with a record-breaking 8,033 in attendance?
“I think we were excited that we had such a platform to perform on,” said Michie. “Obviously there is a bit of pressure but I think we handled it well. I definitely found it exciting to play in. I might need to practise shouting louder as it's hard to get team-mates to hear what you're saying when you've got the crowd.
“So it was pressure but more from an excitement aspect. I don't think we shied away from the stage and hopefully we can thrive more and more if we can keep generating the same crowds. And hopefully we get a winning performance next time.”
Hibs also got their hands on the inaugural Capital Cup. After the 90 minutes were up and each team had gained a point apiece there was a penalty shoot-out to decide the victor of the newly established trophy. Georgia Timms missed for Hearts and Hibs struck all five of theirs into the back of the net, though they did have a little luck on their side.
“Oh, honestly. Charlotte got a strong hand to two of them. I couldn't believe the one which hit the post and then trickled in behind her,” said Michie.
“She did a great job for us in the first half and it's just about shoring up the rest of the defence so that we don't have to rely on her having such a great game. We want to be able to put the game out of sight ourselves and give them less chances.
“With the Capital Cup the thing about it is bragging rights, but the most important thing for us is that we got something out of the game. We would have preferred three, but we got the point. We move on and hopefully we take the cup at Tynecastle.”
Though they didn’t take three points or any silverware home there was still a moment to saviour for the Hearts players as an enormous roar greeted Emma Brownlie’s header from a Ciara Grant cross which gave the away side the lead.
“It was great and for it to happen down at that end with the Hearts fans behind the goal,” said Michie. “The support was incredible so we're extremely grateful for Baillie Gifford for providing the free tickets that we could get a record breaking crowd. We really appreciate their support.
“The constant singing definitely spurs you on further. It's a really nice feeling. It especially helped in the first half where Hibs had a number of corners down that end and it's great to know you've got the backing of the fans. It's something different to experience as female football players, having that encouragement and support.
“It was really great to have that turnout and hopefully we put on a decent enough performance. Obviously we want to improve on that but hopefully there was enough to encourage them to continue following us and generate more support throughout the year.”