Hearts manager Craig Levein hails an act of defiance with derby win against Hibs
Hearts didn’t look like scoring. At times, they barely looked like shooting. But midway through the second half they came to life to spark a seismic Edinburgh derby victory at Easter Road.
Aaron Hickey’s winning goal and the wild celebrations which followed evoked memories of David Obua’s guns or Wayne Foster on the fence. It was one of those colossal moments.
Coming from behind at the home of your greatest rivals whilst bottom of the league is possibly the ultimate act of defiance. Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, inset, badly needed such an act from his players. Stevie Mallan’s stunning 25-yard effort put Hibs 1-0 ahead early in the second half, but Uche Ikpeazu scrambled an equaliser before Hickey’s 84th-minute winner.
The 17-year-old’s 25-yard shot looked deflected before looping over the Hibs goalkeeper Chris Maxwell on his league debut. From 1-0 down to 2-1 up, Hearts weren’t for letting their advantage slip. Their jubilation at the end summed up the relief felt within the camp after arriving in Leith bottom of the Premiership.
“There are ways to win games by accumulating another thousands grey hairs. That was today. To go behind and come back to win a derby away from home is a pretty special thing. I’m thrilled to bits for the players and the supporters,” said Levein.
“This game is always pressurised from a number of different areas. Recently we’ve been struggling at home, where we are expected to win and make the running. This is a different pressure and the boys handled it. First and foremost, they didn’t make any mistakes. That has been hampering our progress in previous matches in the league.
“We were pretty good defensively and restricted Hibs to very few chances. When Stevie [Mallan] scored from 25 yards into the top corner, I thought: ‘maybe it’s not going to be our day’. All credit to the boys, they plugged away and kept going.
“Uche got us back in the game and then Aaron, who had another smashing game, managed to score the winner in an Edinburgh derby with 5-1 on his back. I thought we were worthy of it but I’m slightly biased. I felt we played better than Hibs.
“Our confidence will grow from this. We have a hugely difficult game on Wednesday night against Aberdeen and this result will help us going into that match.”
Hibs supporters protested at full-time outside Easter Road as they called for manager Paul Heckingbottom to be sacked. Both Edinburgh clubs have had difficult starts and whoever lost this derby was always likely to feel even more heat.
After a turgid first half, Mallan’s superb strike put Hibs in command of this derby. It was a 61st-minute substitution and reorganisation which breathed life into Hearts. Callumn Morrison replaced Sean Clare and the switch from a 3-4-2-1 system to a straight 4-4-2 was transformational. Instantly, the visitors took hold.
Ikpeazu scrambled his goal nine minutes later, holding off opponents as Christophe Berra’s header landed with him six yards out. Then came Hickey’s glory moment. Ikpeazu indulged in some must-see stepovers wide on the left before rolling the ball into the teenager’s path. He dispatched a shot from 25 yards which seemed to take a deflection as it looped over Maxwell and into the net.
Hickey didn’t care. He was off running uncontrollably after his first goal in senior football. He started at right wing-back and ironically might not have had the chance to score had he not been moved to left-back during the reshuffle. Levein played down the significance of the tactical change, though.
“I took Michael Smith off because he is just back from injury and isn’t 100 per cent,” he explained. “The others were tactical because I felt we had lost the grip on the game. Tactical differences do make a difference but I don’t think that was the difference for us. It was the players’ desire to show they are better than what they’ve been up to now. That was the biggest thing in our favour.
“I’m so pleased for Uche. He has two goals in two games. People think he’s a big lad who batters others around but a few centre-backs have left one on him a few times.
“I also thought Ryo [Meshino] was fantastic. He gives us something different and he is very brave. He takes the ball anywhere and his first thought is to take people on and see if he can create or scor.
“Glenn Whelan also gave us a midfield masterclass, and Hickey gets the goal. All in all, quite a nice day actually.”