A competitive and impassioned Hearts performance ended Hibs’ hopes of finishing second in the Ladbrokes Premiership in the final Edinburgh derby of the season.
Goals in each half from Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith were sufficient to earn a narrow but deserved victory despite Florian Kamberi briefly equalising for Hibs from the penalty spot.
It was the kind of gritty and determined Hearts performance manager Craig Levein expected against their city neighbours. Although Hearts were playing only for pride and are guaranteed to end the campaign in sixth place, they harboured a burning desire to stop their newly-promoted rivals finishing best of the rest behind champions Celtic.
That was probably their greatest motivating factor and they maximised it from first minute to last. Hibs could not afford to lose if they wanted to stay in the hunt for second place and they didn’t lack intensity either. What they did miss was a final quality ball and a composed finish when scoring opportunities arose.
Realistically, this was Hearts’ opportunity to provide supporters with some cheer at the end of an exasperating campaign. Tynecastle Park hosted its final game of season 2017/18 with grass freshly cut following Brendan Rodgers’ weekend comments. However, at full-time, the process of ripping up the turf to lay a new £1million hybrid surface began.
The Hibs manager Neil Lennon set out a team containing plenty of pace, perhaps hoping to exploit the opposition’s central defensive pairing of Aaron Hughes and Christophe Berra. John Souttar was absent through injury and the Easter Road club’s energetic midfield were certainly prepared to run at those in maroon when opportunities arose.
The game’s first moment of controversy arose after 16 minutes. Lafferty’s late challenge on Lewis Stevenson sparked a shoving match involving Joaquim Adao, Darren McGregor, John McGinn and others. Lafferty was booked but the adrenalin rush seemed to help Hearts in their quest to seize the initiative.
They fashioned an opening which led to vociferous penalty claims on 24 minutes. Naismith tried to push past Efe Ambrose and Lewis Stevenson inside the penalty area and fell but referee Craig Thomson resisted Hearts’ appeals. They were appeased moments later when Lafferty prodded home the opening goal.
Stevenson seemed to dwell on the ball slightly as Naismith’s pass arrived at his feet. Lafferty stole possession and steadied himself to poke the ball beyond the Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and into the far corner of the net with his left foot. He then set off for his trademark salute-style celebration in front of the travelling support in Tynecastle’s Roseburn Stand. One or two took exception and ventured onto the track to confront the Northern Irishman before being intercepted by stewards.
The evening had that kind of feel about it: A powder keg atmosphere teetering on the brink of boiling over with every tackle – and there were plenty of them. It is that tantalising environment which makes these derbies so intense, of course. Quality of play wasn’t exactly of the highest order but that is often the case when the Edinburgh clubs engage in battle.
Harry Cochrane’s 36th-minute effort was held by Marciano before the Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin fisted Brandon Barker’s curling effort to safety at the opposite end. Cochrane then collected David Milinkovic’s pass and dribbled through for another, this time clearer, sight of Marciano’s net. McGregor blocked his left-footed attempt at goal with Hearts by now playing confidently in search of a second goal.
Cochrane’s tenacity in central midfield was one of their driving forces. He battled John McGinn ferociously, Adao was as combative as ever, while Milinkovic hugged the right touchline to give his team width. On the opposite flank, Danny Amankwaa constantly found himself in space but failed to threaten when supplied with the ball. Hibs, having lost Martin Boyle to injury moments before half-time, needed to get back into this match quickly.
Three minutes after the restart they restored parity. Adao was penalised for a challenge on Stevenson as the full-back touched the ball away from his Angolan opponent inside the box. Thomson pointed immediately to the spot and Kamberi stroked the penalty to McLaughlin’s right.
Just when Lennon would have wanted his team to stabilise and begin building on the equaliser, they conceded again. Paul Hanlon needlessly fouled Lafferty on the run and Cochrane delivered the resultant free-kick to Naismith for a glancing header on the run which flew into the Hibs net.
Lennon’s response was to sacrifice a member of his back three – Hanlon – and introduce another striker in Jamie Maclaren. Then came Vykintas Slivka for Allan. Lennon was acutely aware a defeat ended all hope of second place and was clearly determined to keep the issue alive heading into Sunday’s final game of the season against Rangers at Easter Road.
Hibs entered the closing stages of the game desperately seeking a goal and throwing everything at the Hearts rearguard. They also had to be careful of the home side’s threat on the break. Maclaren scuffed a half chance following a corner as ball after ball was pumped into McLaughlin’s penalty box. Then came Kamberi’s attempt on the turn which sailed over the crossbar.
In the Hearts technical area, instruction after instruction was being screamed out by assistant coach Austin MacPhee. He was promptly told by Levein to calm himself. After six minutes of stoppage time, he could finally relax as referee Thomson’s whistle confirmed Hearts’ victory.