WHAT is it with Hibs goalkeepers and derby matches?
This wasn’t a one-man calamity show but if the rest of the match veered from frustrating to nail-biting for the visiting support, the actions of Andy McNeil in the 23rd minute can only be described as cringe-worthy.
Already a goal down and under the cosh, the young keeper had just pulled off two fine saves to keep his team in the match and when a long-ball was pumped forward he seemed assured as he gave his defender Chris Hogg the shout to leave it. Hogg will wish he hadn’t heeded him as the Scottish Under-20 cap somehow contrived to let the ball to slip through his grasp, where the waiting Andrew Driver gratefully dispatched it into the gaping net.
In the opening seconds Hearts threatened and by the time the first 29 seconds of the match had elapsed the home side had not only manufactured their second goal chance of the afternoon, they had converted it. With Hibs again opting to play three at the back, the movement of Michal Pospisil and Roman Bednar posed immediate problems and when the former broke free he managed to muscle his way through between Shelton Martis and Chris Hogg to then slide the ball across the face of McNeil’s goal and tuck it into the bottom corner of his net.
In the build up to the match Hearts assistant manager Stevie Frail had spoken of the improved team spirit and camaraderie within the Gorgie ranks, while across the city Hibs are struggling with confidence and will have been aware that their hosts were in desperate need of a win to keep their slim chances of finishing third and qualify for next season’s Uefa Cup alive.
And they were in the mood to deliver. A team who have prospered again in recent weeks, in no small measure to the form of Laryea Kingston, who was back from suspension for this match as he appeals his long-term punishment.
But he wasn’t the only one on a day when Hearts’ first-half play in particular was utterly rampant. By the time McNeil contributed to Hibs’ downfall, Hearts could have been several goals to the good already, with Takis Fyssas, making his final Tynecastle appearance, combining with Pospisil to play in Roman Bednar only for the ball to just evade him in front of target. He had another opportunity minutes later.
If Hearts had managed to find the net by the 29-second mark, it took Hibs until the 29th minute to fire a shot in on target and test Craig Gordon.
The fact it was a long-range crack from Guillaume Beuzelin epitomised the frustration. They had carved out two glorious openings prior to that but the lack of clinical finishing which has hamstrung them since Chris Killen got injured and Benjelloun’s form went off the boil was again a problem. Too often when there was a break up field it was too convoluted, with no-one taking responsibility for pulling the trigger quickly enough.
Hibs escaped going three down before the break, and at half-time Ivan Sproule and Kevin McCann replaced Gray and Martis and it did pay off slightly. They helped stir things up a bit but without the killer instinct in front of goal Hearts were able to see out the match.
Hearts: Gordon, Karipidis, Fyssas, Zaliukas, Ivaskevicius, Berra, Mikoliunas, Kingston, Bednar, Pospisil, Driver
Hibs: McNeil, Whittaker, Murphy, Hogg, Jones, Martis, Gray, Buezelin, Fletcher, Shiels, Stevenson