THIS was a breathless, ferociously competitive Edinburgh derby laced with controversy.
Dean Shiels was sent off for barging into goalkeeper Craig Gordon after converting a penalty and Hearts exploited Hibs’ handicap by edging a thriller with a terrific goal from Saulius Mikoliunas.
There were six yellow cards and one red in this feverish contest in which Hibs recovered bravely from a dismal start.
The contest started at a blistering pace.
Hibs came bustling out of the traps and created a clear opening for Abdessalam Benjelloun in the first minute. Ten yards from goal with only Gordon to beat, the striker blazed a shot wide of the target.
Almost immediately, Hearts responded with a set-piece reminiscent of their best football under George Burley. Christophe Berra’s free-kick was shrewdly flicked on by Edgaras Jankauskas and Roman Bednar slipped the offside trap before cutting the ball back from the bye-line.
Timing his run to perfection into the six-yard box, Paul Hartley had the simple task of side-footing the ball past Zibi Malkowski. It was his eighth goal in eight derby games.
Hibs gave no quarter in midfield where both Hartley and Hibs’ Michael Stewart were booked after an early clash. When Stewart felled Hartley with another challenge later in the half, the former Hearts man was fortunate to stay on the pitch.
Hearts squandered an opportunity to increase their lead when Bednar sprinted clear down the left-wing only to fire a low shot straight at Malkowski.
Hibs also caused Hearts a few problems during the first period thanks to Stewart’s creative touch. His influence grew as the game progressed and his duel with Hartley involved brain as much as brawn. His pass gave Chris Killen a first sight of goal, but Hibs’ top scorer was slack on this occasion and poked an effort wide.
The return of Jankauskas and Bednar up front for Hearts was a telling influence on the outcome as their strength and height caused problems for the visitors.
Aware, no doubt, that Malkowski had in the past displayed derby nerves, Jankauskas was entitled to stalk the Hibs goalkeeper when Hartley’s 48th-minute free-kick was curled towards the far post. Even the big Lithuanian, however, must have been astonished by the fumble which presented him with the simplest chance to score his first goal of the season from a couple of yards.
Hibs responded in a timely manner by forcing a corner in the 54th minute thanks to a surging run from Steven Whittaker.
Shiels’ set-piece was struck deep into the heart of the box where Killen’s towering header escaped the outstretched arms of Gordon.
Now enthused about salvaging some reward, Hibs set up the equaliser when Whittaker’s diagonal pass found Shiels on the left of the box. Nerijus Barasa brushed the forward, who went down easily, and conceded a 60th-minute penalty.
Shiels made an expert job of the spot-kick with a well-placed shot and then suffered a bizarre rush of blood to the head. Running to pick up the ball from the back of the net, Shiels careered into Gordon and sent the Hearts keeper crashing to the ground.
After consulting with the assistant referee, Mike McCurry decided the challenge was reckless enough to merit a red card and instant dismissal.
Often the villain of the piece in a maroon jersey that season, Lithuanian winger Mikoliunas was the hero with a crisp, controlled shot into the roof of the net on 70 minutes.
Hearts: Gordon, Barasa, Goncalves, Zaliukas, Brellier, Berra, Mikoliunas, Hartley, Jankauskas, Bednar, McCann.
Hibs: Malkowski, Whittaker, Martis, Jones, Murphy, Beuzelin, Stewart, Brown, Shiels, Benjelloun, Killen.