Hearts 2 - 0 Hibs; May 12, 2007
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 slip through his grasp, and Andrew Driver gratefully dispatched it into the gaping net.
The Hearts fans, now well used to such goalkeeping generosity from their rivals’ goalmouth custodians, lapped it up. “Are you Zibby in disguise?” was followed up by “Andy is a Jambo”. It was the kind of mocking misery many Hibs fans had feared. Already on a miserable run of eight games without a win since their League Cup triumph, the last place Hibs will have wanted to visit was Tynecastle.
In the opening seconds Hearts threatened and it should have been the reminder Hibs needed, but by the time the first 29 seconds of the match had elapsed the home side had not only manufactured their second chance of the afternoon, they had converted it. With Hibs 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 the 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 were struggling with confidence and will have been aware that their hosts were in desperate need of a win to keep alive their slim chances of finishing third and qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
And they were in the mood to deliver. A team which has prospered again in recent weeks, in no small measure to the form of Laryea Kingston, 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 the 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 by Guillaume Beuzelin epitomised the frustration. They had carved out two glorious openings prior to that but the lack of clinical finishing which had hamstrung them since Chris Killen was injured and Benjelloun’s form went off the boil was again a problem. Too often when there was a break upfield it was too convoluted, with no-one taking responsibility for pulling the trigger quickly enough. The 15th minute was a prime example when Steven Fletcher and Damon Gray dallied and with Fyssas getting over to cover initially they then allowed Christos Karipidis to get back and block.
Hibs escaped going three down when the framework did what successive Hibs goalkeepers have failed to do, by denying Hearts as Christophe Berra’s header came back off the bar.
In the absence of Scott Brown, due to a family bereavement, Hibs needed something in the midfield to occupy Hearts’ minds and create more. 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, Martis, Hogg, Jones, Whittaker, Shiels, Beuzelin, Stevenson, Murphy, Gray, Fletcher.