Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin made a first appearance in Hearts colours as Andy Kirk got off to the best possible start as permanent Under-20s coach with a 4-1 derby win over Hibs at Oriam.
Callum Crane’s early strike was cancelled out by Rory Currie before a second-half Lewis Moore brace put Hearts well control. Calumn Morrison added a stunning fourth in stoppage time to ensure a comprehensive win.
“It’s been a wee bit different the last few weeks but everyone at the club has dug in and helped out,” said Kirk. “It’s nice when things get settled and people can now start to get stuck in their roles.
“It’s great for me to be in charge of the 20s group and stamp my own style on games. It’s a great start and the boys played really well and deserved the win.”
He also hailed it as a useful exercise for McLaughlin. “That’s what the 20s are here for,” he explained. “You get first team players who need game time and the younger boys understand there’s pecking order and if they come down, they take preference. It was good for him to get some minutes and he looked comfortable, as did Prince [Buaben]. When the boys comes down from the first team their attitude is always great.
“I thought we controlled large parts of the game and got the goal back before half-time. We spoke to them about increasing the tempo and if we got another one it could be good for us and it worked out great in the end.”
McLaughlin had no chance with Hibs’ opener. Hearts failed to clear their lines from a corner and the ball fell nicely for Crane, who sent a first-time left foot effort high in to the top corner.
The equaliser had been coming when it arrived on the half-hour mark. Jamie Brandon’s ball over the top for Currie looked hopeful, but he did well to outmuscle and spin Kevin Waugh before sending a smart finish across Laidlaw in to the far corner.
Hearts edged themselves in front just ten minutes after the restart. This time it was Hibs who failed to clear sufficiently, and a fortunate break of the ball allowed Moore to take a touch before placing one in off the far post.
Ruari Paton almost drew Hibs level with 15 remaining via a deflected effort that had McLaughlin scrambling, but unfortunately for the Hibs youngster the keeper tipped it just wide.
Hearts then punished their opponents with a deadly counter from the resulting corner. Some swift passing put Brandon away on the right with plenty options in support. He squared for Moore, who calmly dispatched past Laidlaw for his second and Hearts’ third.
There was just enough time for Morrison to add some extra gloss to the scoreline and in some style with an unstoppable strike in to the top corner.
Kirk felt Moore and others showed just why they’ve been getting first-team game time. “Lewis got a couple of goals and also Jamie Brandon at full back was good,” he said. “I said to them afterwards, there’s a level and standard you have to get to play for Hearts. They’re in and around thew first team just now because their standards are high.”
Opposite number Grant Murray was understandably disappointed to lose heavily after a bright start. “To get yourself ahead in a game, especially a derby, gives you a big lift,” he said. “I think we were second best for the rest of the game though and got what we deserved,” he said.
“Even the manner we lost the second, third and fourth goals was very disappointing. We’ve got a chance to clear for the second and we don’t. We’ve then got a corner and ten seconds later the ball’s in the back of our net.
“I hope the heads didn’t go down too easily. We’ll go over it and assess it with the guys but they have to understand that these games are very important at the football club.
“I thought we started with the right attitude but we just didn’t have the right mentality to take the game further at 1-0 and have any control.”
Hibs: Laidlaw, Blake, Mackie, O’Connor, Waugh, Crane, Watson, Stirling, Gullan, Martin, Murray (Paton 60).
Hearts: McLaughlin, Brandon, Godinho (Reid 72), Gadja, Hamilton, Buaben (Petkov 82), Morrison, Beith, Currie, Zanatta (Leonard 88), Moore.
Referee: Darren Williams