Hibs 2, Hearts 0: Win takes hosts 12 points clear of rivals
Second-half goals from January signings Scott Allan and Jamie Maclaren secured Hibs a fifth consecutive home win over Hearts and took the Easter Road side 12 points clear of their city rivals in the Premiership with a game in hand.
The victory, which moved the hosts within a point of third-place Aberdeen, served as a portion of revenge for Neil Lennon’s team after they were left riled by Craig Levein’s claim that “natural order” had been restored in the Capital when Hearts ended Hibs’ nine-game unbeaten run in the Edinburgh derby with their Scottish Cup victory at Tynecastle in January.
The Hearts manager was forced to endure a chastening closing ten minutes after Maclaren had effectively sealed the points in a match which had been evenly-balanced until Allan’s opener.
Hibs made one change to the side that started the 2-2 draw at Kilmarnock, with Paul Hanlon returning in place of teenager Ryan Porteous. Hearts made two changes to the team that started the 2-1 Scottish Cup defeat at Motherwell as Michael Smith and Lewis Moore replaced Aaron Hughes and Ross Callachan. Smith, ordinarily a full-back, was surprisingly deployed in central midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation, and it was a ploy that worked well in the first half as Hearts more than held their own against their much-vaunted hosts, who set up with 3-5-2.
Smith had the first notable chance of the match in the 11th minute when Marcus Godinho rolled the ball into his path just inside the box but Darren McGregor charged the Northern Irishman’s shot down.
Hearts were forced into a change in the 14th minute when Harry Cochrane limped off injured. He was replaced by fellow 16-year-old Anthony McDonald.
Hibs began to seize the upper hand as the half wore on and John McGinn fizzed a shot over from just outside the box after receiving a corner from Allan.
Martin Boyle was the hosts’ main threat before the break and he went close to a sensational opening goal when he burst from the halfway line into the danger area but Jon McLaughlin got down well to save his low strike from 20 yards out.
After an evenly-balanced start to the second half, Hibs took the lead in the 58th minute when Allan fired a superb low left-footed shot past McLaughlin from 20 yards out after Hanlon had hooked a throw-in back into the midfielder’s path.
The hosts threatened again three minutes later when Florian Kamberi flicked a close-range effort wide of the near post from Maclaren’s low cross.
After Hearts had introduced Danny Amankwaa in place of Moore, Hibs almost doubled their lead in the 65th minute when Maclaren cracked a ferocious 20-yard strike off the underside of the bar, with Mclaughlin getting a crucial touch.
At the other end, Naismith had a couple of good opportunities in quick succession but, on the first occasion, he was blocked off by Efe Ambrose and the second time he saw his low, angled shot from 15 yards out deflect agonisingly wide of the far post.
Hearts’ hopes of claiming something from the match were effectively snuffed out in the 79th minute as Maclaren turned and rifled in a clinical, low strike from 12 yards out. Hibs were able to see out the closing stages in relative comfort, with the gleeful home support goading Levein over his “natural order” claims.
Hibs: Marciano; Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon; Boyle, McGeouch (Swanson 90), McGinn, Allan (Bartley 73), Stevenson; Kamberi, Maclaren (Whittaker 87). Subs not used: Bell, Rherras, Shaw, Porteous. Booked: Marciano (70)
Hearts: McLaughlin; Godinho, Souttar, Berra, Randall; Adao: Naismith, Smith (Henderson 80), Cochrane (McDonald 14), Moore (Amankwaa 61); Lafferty. Subs not used: Hamilton, Hughes, Buaben, Callachan. Booked: Smith (48)
Referee: Bobby Madden