What does the Edinburgh derby win mean for Craig Levein and Hearts?

Winning Edinburgh derbies. It's what Heart of Midlothian do. Or, at the very least, what fans of the club expect the team to do.

By Joel Sked
Monday, 23rd September 2019, 12:19 pm
Hearts boss Craig Levein celebrates win over Hibs. Picture: SNS
Hearts boss Craig Levein celebrates win over Hibs. Picture: SNS

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Following Sunday's 2-1 success at Easter Road the record now stands at 142 victories for the Tynecastle side, 85 for Hibs.

The derby win is the most valuable of currency around EH11. One match, one goal is enough to propel the most mediocre of players onto a pedestal, encased in amber and remembered for decades around Tynecastle.

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Hearts boss Craig Levein celebrates win over Hibs. Picture: SNS

It is the match which can define a Hearts career. Or ruin one.

As Hibs led 1-0 through Stevie Mallan's fantastic long-range strike which veered up, away from Joel Pereira, then down under the bar, the home support turned their joyous celebrations towards Hearts boss Craig Levein.

"You're getting sacked in the morning," reverberated around Easter Road.

It wasn't long before those housed in the Dunbar End turned on their manager. 'Craig Levein, we want you to go,' the away support implored. The Hibs fans hit back: 'Craig Levein, we want you to stay'.

As the ball fell to Melker Hallberg in the Hearts box just past the hour mark, that was it. No coming back for the Gorgie boss. A meek derby defeat, following what went before, leaving the club rock bottom, there was no way back, no matter how long owner Ann Budge stood by him. The Hibs midfielder, however, sent his shot towards the pub formerly known as the Loch Inn rather than towards Pereira's goal.

It was a big moment. A reprieve for Levein, a regret for Heckingbottom. A turning point.

Uche Ikpeazu and Aaron Hickey grabbed the goals to turn the match on its head and, following John Beaton's full-time whistle, Levein was saluting the away fans, while a small crowd of home fans had gathered outside the West Stand to protest against the Hibs boss.

It was billed as a 'do or die derby'. Or the 'P45 derby'.

Yet, it wasn't quite the case for Levein following Budge's statement last week where she backed her manager to turn it around. A loss would have simply notched the anger up even further.

Winning, however, has dulled the noise. The equivalent of turning up the volume on the car radio to mask the sound of something rattling. There is a long way to go before the car that is Heart of Midlothian is operating properly.

The celebrations at both goals showed that any talk of fans accepting a derby defeat for Levein to be sacked was utterly nonsensical. Yet, make no mistake, there are still many who, as delighted as they are with the win, note that it doesn't change a thing with regards to the managerial position.

The Hearts boss will know this more than anyone, that no matter what he does there will be those among the support who will never back him. Defeat at home to Aberdeen in the Betfred Cup quarter-final or at St Mirren in the league on Saturday and it is back to square one. The moans, the groans, the complaints and chants will begin once more.

The fatalists in the home support expect it.

One thing he can count on, though. Something which shouldn't be underestimated is that he has the backing of his players. It is easy for some to sit in front of assembled journalists and give the usual platitudes of being behind the manager. But it is their actions and body language which speak the loudest.

The way in which the players dug in, came from behind to win and celebrated with their manager at the end, the joy on their face, highlighted that any chat of Levein losing the dressing room is wide of the mark.

It is now on them to do that on a consistent basis, to understand the pressure that comes with playing for the club and use it as a motivational tool which sees them thrive, rather than as an excuse they hide behind.

However, as the head of the team, it always comes back to Levein. He deserves credit for making the necessary substitutions, helping turn the game in his side's favour.

Beating Hibs has allowed him to come to the surface for air, a quick breath. Such a win has the capacity to breathe life back into the club. It is now vital he and the team capitalise on such a joyous victory, make sure it is a starting point rather than returning to the norm.

Aberdeen in the cup, under the floodlights at Tynecastle will take care of itself. It's the trip to St Mirren which will give the biggest indication of whether this is the beginning of something new or simply a part of a prolonged end.