HEARTS must feel all of this could have been avoided. Hibs, though, have proved a point to themselves as much as anyone.
A dramatic comeback at Tynecastle secures the Easter Road club a William Hill Scottish Cup replay a week tomorrow – one which their rivals know shouldn’t be necessary.
At half-time, even the tournament sponsors would have been offering ultra-short odds on anything other than Hearts’ progress to the quarter-finals. Arnaud Djoum’s screamer and Sam Nicholson’s smart finish had those in maroon looking and feeling comfortable in this fifth round tie. Perhaps too comfortable.
They sat too deep for long periods in the second half and Hibs, to their credit, capitalised ruthlessly. Their confidence grew when Jason Cummings guided a looping header beyond Neil Alexander in the home goal with ten minutes remaining. “I don’t think anyone was surprised when we got the equaliser,” said the visiting manager, Alan Stubbs. He was right. Darren McGregor’s header from a corner forced a fine one-handed save from Alexander, but Paul Hanlon slid the rebound home from around ten yards in the 90th minute.
The delirium in the away end spilled over as a few fans ended up on the track. What it showed was that Hibs’ belief had paid off. Trips to Gorgie have been largely fruitless for many a year but this time they had garnered enough character to match their Ladbrokes Premiership hosts. John McGinn had an outstanding game for Hibs, driving them forward at every opportunity. The visitors left the field at full-time celebrating like they had won, while Hearts’ emotions were akin to a defeat.
“It’s disappointing. We dominated the first half and created a lot of chances,” said Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson. “In the second half, the weather got really bad and we got hemmed in a wee bit and couldn’t get out. I still expected us to defend a two-goal lead but to lose two poor goals at the end is disappointing.
“It’s happened. If the shoe was on the other foot we’d be delighted but it’s the same result. It’s 2-2 and we’re still in the draw. We now have another derby, another money-spinner for the clubs, another big one for the fans. If we can get through that, it’s even better than winning it the first time.
“I’ve played in these derby games before and it’s never over until it’s over. In a cup game, if you’re 2-0 down, you just go gung-ho and you can get a result out of it. Hibs did and got a result out of it. We started playing again at 2-2 and got a couple of chances but we should’ve done that at 2-0.”
The dying seconds saw the visiting substitute Niklas Gunnarsson deflect a through ball onto his own crossbar. Another sub, Kevin Thomson, then cleared Blazej Augustyn’s header off his own goal line as Hibs threatened to instantly undo all their industry. Both teams finished a bruising encounter with several injuries, which perhaps wasn’t too surprising given the blustery and wet conditions. One second-half altercation involved groups of players from both teams inside the hosts’ penalty box. McGregor, Anthony Stokes and Augustyn were all booked for their part in the aggressive melee.
Neilson felt injuries affected his team severely, particularly after captain Alim Ozturk was forced off five minutes into the second half. “The injuries and the changes we had to make had an impact,” he continued. “We had a couple of guys carrying knocks. Nicholson and Miguel Pallardo were really struggling but, because we had to take Prince Buaben, Ozturk and Djoum off, we didn’t have the opportunity to change it. That had a little bit of a bearing on the game.
“We scored two good goals, that’s what we expect, but we expect them to do it in the second half as well. When you’re 2-0 up in a derby, especially at home, you should see it out but it’s done now. We have a huge game on Wednesday at Ross County with a few injuries and suspensions. We need to go up there and get a team together to try and win that.”
Djoum’s 22-yard drive was the pick of the four but the Cameroonian’s joy was compromised by his team’s late collapse. “In that moment, we are playing a derby and you score a goal like that, I was very happy. In the first half, I thought we were going to win this game. I am just disappointed about the result but I am happy to score a goal like that.
“We play in the first league and Hibs play in the second league. We are still the favourites for this game. We have to play like way played in the first half and continue it for the whole game. Then we have a big chance to win.”
Neilson agreed that a second match at Easter Road on Tuesday is potentially hazardous. Intriguingly, he opined that it may suit his team playing there. “The replay will be a tough one. The pressure was on us being the home team at Tynecastle,” he explained. “At Easter Road, there’s less expectation on us. We can go there and I think we have a good chance of going there and getting a result. It’s a different game when you’re away from home.
“It’s a good game to be involved in and I’m looking forward to going to Easter Road. We’ll have all our players back from suspension, we’ll have Rossi back in, Walker fully fit and Dauda up to speed. We’ll go there stronger than we were yesterday.”
Abiola Dauda was one of two Hearts debutants yesterday. The other was Don Cowie who replaced Buaben after ten minutes. “I didn’t expect either of them to play as much as they did,” admitted Neilson. “Buaben coming off for Don was like-for-like so it didn’t cause us too many problems. Ozturk coming off gave us a problem. We had to shift Jordan McGhee inside and put Juwon Oshaniwa on at left-back. I thought Dauda did well. He’s played 20 and 30 minutes of competitive football but it’s a while since he’s played a full first-team game.”