HEARTS experienced their fair share of ups and downs both on and off the pitch this season, but one aspect of life at the club remained constant: their ability to get the better of their Edinburgh rivals.
Six of Pat Fenlon’s players were making their derby debuts. James McPake provided some solidity at centre-back, and Pa Kujabi had a useful outing at left-back, but collectively this new-look team were only a little better than the one they replaced. Jorge Claros, for instance, had shoen touches of undoubted pedigree, but the man whose nickname is Pitbull was more like a Pekinese in this game, being outclassed by Ian Black.
The Hearts midfielder was the dominant figure at New Year and was again a critical influence here, taking charge of midfield despite the absence through injury of his usual anchorman, Adrian Mrowiec. Without the Pole, Hearts had an unbalanced look in the middle, with Rudi Skacel, Mehdi Taouil and Andrew Driver making up the quartet. But, while those three were among the home team’s less significant performers, Black was still able to run the show.
Craig Beattie and Black combined for the first goal, which came at the end of a half-hour during which Hearts had steadily imposed their superiority on their opponents. When Hibs lost possession from their own throw-in on the left, Black cleverly made space for himself by breaking free of Claros, and resisted the temptation of a short pass inside where several team-mates were in support.
Instead, spying Beattie’s run, he sent an excellent crossfield ball into the path of the striker, who had gone the wrong side of Matthew Doherty. Beattie cushioned the ball expertly with his first touch, and, from around 12 yards out, rolled it past Graham Stack with his second.
The lead was no more than Hearts had deserved as Andy Webster and Danny Grainger had both had efforts saved.
A couple of accidental clashes, one before and one after that goal, had forced both teams into changes. Skacel and George Francomb both needed treatment after their heads knocked together in the air, and although the Czech was able to play on, the Hibs full-back was soon replaced by Doherty.
Then, just before half-time, Stephen Elliott ran into Stack and was forced off with a hip knock a couple of minutes before the break.
It forced Hearts to change their shape, with Scott Robinson coming off the bench into midfield and Skacel adopting a supporting role just behind Beattie. Ryan McGowan came on for Black but it was the final change of the day which made the most impact. The 90 minutes were at an end when Suso Santana came on, and three minutes of the four added on had been played when he ran on to a ball out on the left. The predictable thing to do would have been to drift wide and run the clock down, but instead the little Spaniard beetled into the box, evaded a couple of would-be tacklers, and coolly netted with Stack helpless. For the home support it made for a delirious end to the game. For the away fans, who were present in far fewer numbers than usual, it was just another reminder, as if any more were needed, of Hearts’ superiority this season.
Hearts: MacDonald, Hamill, Grainger, Webster, Black, Barr, Taouil, Skacel, Beattie, Elliott, Driver.
Hibs: Stack, Francomb, Kujabi, McPake, Claros, Hanlon, Wotherspoon, Stevenson, O’Donovan, Griffiths, Soares.