The clear challenge for Hearts this week is to lift morale for a Scottish Cup semi-final after a demoralising Edinburgh derby defeat. It is no easy task.
Hibs’ first victory at Tynecastle Park in six years is exactly the precursor Hearts dreaded for Saturday’s tie with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. They simply must find the resolve to recover.
When Peter Haring’s header soared into the Hibs net after 25 minutes of Saturday’s affair, it looked like the hosts were in control. Losing an equaliser three minutes later destroyed their momentum and Hibs capitalised in ruthless fashion. If Horgan’s leveller was clinical, his second was even better after a flowing, passing move.
The end result put Paul Heckingbottom’s team above their Capital rivals into fifth place in the Ladbrokes Premiership. That sparked a fair degree of frustration around Tynecastle, anger being vented in the stands and a sombre mood with a critical semi-final looming.
The feeling within the home dressing-room at full-time was one of injustice. Hearts felt they played well and ought to have had a penalty seconds from half-time, but that was scant consolation in the context of the final scoreline. There is simply no time to over-reflect on negatives with the chance to reach the Scottish Cup final in their next fixture.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get the team to a final,” said centre-back John Souttar. “It doesn’t come along very often so we’ve got to make sure we’re bang at it and ready. I’m sure if we play at the level we did on Saturday we’ve got a good chance. The result was frustrating because I thought we deserved more than we got. There have been times in derbies when we’ve been beaten and you hold your hands up because they have been the better team. I don’t think that was the case on Saturday.
“We had chances. I thought we played well and played good football – probably the best we’ve played in a derby in a long time. It’s hard to lose any derby but especially when we didn’t deserve to lose.”
Souttar was at the centre of the aforementioned penalty claim. He was kicked by the Hibs midfielder Stephane Omeonga inside the box after prodding the ball away from the Belgian. He appealed to referee Willie Collum and made straight for the official as soon as the half-time whistle sounded. The protests were in vain.
“I said to the ref at half-time I thought it was a stonewall penalty,” explained Souttar. “I’ve touched the ball and he [Omeonga] has volleyed. It’s difficult for referees, I understand that, but if we get that then it changes the game again in our favour. It’s small margins, isn’t it? Hibs got them.
“I can’t really remember what was said in the conversation [with Collum] in the heat of the game. I could have done better in my game and I’m sure he will be thinking the same. At the time, I thought it was a stonewaller.”
Hearts were still in the game at 1-1 but Hibs’ second goal on 56 minutes was a blow from which they could not recover. A neat flowing move involving Horgan, Florian Kamberi and Stevie Mallan ended with Horgan dashing towards the edge of the home penalty box. With a swing of his left foot, he dispatched a powerful drive from 18 yards which swept past Zdenek Zlamal on its way into the net.
McNulty’s glancing header from a cross seconds later should have put the Easter Road side further ahead. They then sat in for much of the rest of the game and seemed able and content to play on the counter-attack. Hearts pressed forward and created chances, most notably when Arnaud Djoum side-footed Bobby Burns’ cross over the opposition crossbar.
Manager Craig Levein admitted afterwards that his team needed a clinical edge. “I was pleased with the performance overall. We were better in the first half than we were in the second, but not much.
“We just didn’t score enough goals when we had opportunities to put the game to bed. That’s the frustrating thing. We’ve played a hell of a lot worse in recent derby matches and won. The frustrating thing on Saturday was our inability to be clinical in the penalty box. It has ultimately cost us the game.”