The veteran striker climbed off the substitutes’ bench on 72 minutes and the visitors instantly became a different proposition.
Hearts were 1-0 down at that stage and struggling to breach the Hibs defence. The travelling support were quiet, perhaps doubting if an equaliser was possible. It looked and sounded to be a nerve-wracking situation until MacLean entered the fray.
Ikpeazu had had little service until that point and Hearts in general weren’t a serious threat going forward. MacLean altered that from the moment he replaced Sean Clare. His intelligent movement, link play and harassing of opponents gave his team the impetus to equalise following Christophe Berra’s unfortunate own goal.
The 36-year-old was integral to the equaliser, too. Ikpeazu held off Hibs defenders Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon to feed MacLean the ball on the left. The substitute drove forward before stopping and stroking a pass into Ikpeazu’s path despite being off balance. The striker rolled the ball past Ofir Marciano first time and into the net as the away end erupted. Ikpeazu’s sprint to the touchline to celebrate didn’t impress the Hibs assistant Robbie Stockdale. The striker admitted afterwards that he didn’t care, although stressed he was not trying to shove his euphoria in anyone’s face. He was just overjoyed at redeeming himself.
He had fouled Paul Hanlon to give Hibs a penalty which Marc McNulty missed before Daryl Horgan’s cross careered off Berra en route to the net on 69 minutes.
Thanks to MacLean’s craft, Ikpeazu got the chance to atone and earn Hearts a vital point against with a goal seven minutes from time. Ironically, the scorer might have been taken off and replaced with MacLean earlier. “Uche had worked really hard but it wasn’t one of his best performances,” said Craig Levein, the Hearts manager. “He had hurt his knee and I was wondering whether he would manage to stay on. He came over and said he felt great and not to worry.
“I said I was going to put Steven on with him. Steven was on the touchline ready to go on when Hibs scored so I was kicking myself that I didn’t get him on earlier. Anyway, it worked out.
“Macca will want to play in the big games we have left. He didn’t do himself any harm yesterday. He showed great tenacity going forward with the ball and then cutting it back to Uche. All credit to him.”
Ikpeazu recalled the moment by joking that MacLean didn’t actually intend to tee him up. “It was a battle with the two centre-backs but I managed to pass it to Macca,” said the Englishman. “He was brilliant when he came on. He inadvertently cut it back to me to score. I’m just happy. I love scoring. I didn’t score in my first six or seven games after injury. To be back scoring is important to me.”
Asked whether his celebrations might have caused offence, he replied: “I don’t care. It’s just adrenaline. Sometimes you just do crazy things. It wasn’t directed at anybody or anything like that.”
The foul on Hanlon handed Hibs a glorious chance to move ahead from the penalty spot, but McNulty drove the ball wide of the target from 12 yards. At that moment, Hearts’ emotions changed.
“When I gave away the penalty and they missed it, I thought: ‘Hold on, maybe it’s meant to be that we’re going to get something.’ It’s not in my nature to give up. You have to keep going and that’s my mentality,” said Ikpeazu. “Sometimes things are meant to be and I thought we would get something out of the game when they missed the penalty.”
The own goal set Hearts back but their resolve shone through. They finished as the stronger team, with Ikpeazu coming close to a spectacular second with an overhead kick moments after his equaliser.
“It rejuvenated me because giving away a penalty in a derby is not something you want to do.
“It was a penalty. I caught him. Then again, they scored soon after that to take the lead. We showed character to get back in the game and could have gone on and won it.”