Patrick McPartlin looks back at Sunday’s derby win for Hearts and picks out five talking points ...
Mitchell fits the bill
While Hearts’ on-loan Manchester United youngster Demetri Mitchell wasn’t tested as much as Hibs head coach Neil Lennon would have wanted him to be, the left-back put in an assured performance for Craig Levein’s side. Bearing in mind Mitchell had made just one senior appearance for his parent club in a dead rubber game against Crystal Palace before joining Hearts, pitching him into a Scottish Cup derby showed just how much faith Levein had in his abilities. The man of the match largely nullified the threat of Martin Boyle, Dylan McGeouch and Efe Ambrose, and could have marked his debut with a goal had it not been for a stunning save from Hibs ‘keeper Ofir Marciano. Whisper it, but Hearts could have finally solved their problem position of left back – for the rest of the current campaign at least.
With Anthony Stokes missing altogether, it was something of a makeshift forward line for Hibs as Martin Boyle lined up alongside Oli Shaw, with Simon Murray and Jamie Maclaren on the bench. Boyle and Shaw got very little service and when good balls were played into the box, the former lacked the composure to finish. Vykintas Slivka twice put balls on a plate for Boyle, midway through the first half and early in the second. The former Dundee man will feel he should have done better with the first chance, bundling it wide from Slivka’s cute heel flick when it looked easier to score, while he just failed to connect with the second from the Lithuanian’s deep cross. Maclaren could make an appearance during the league meeting with Dundee at Dens Park on Wednesday, with Hibs having only registered five goals in their last six domestic matches in all competitions. It’s debatable whether Stokes would have made a difference in this match, but the fact remains that while Hibs mostly look comfortable at the back, and well stocked in midfield, the forward line remains an issue.
The Naismith effect
Steven Naismith started, as expected, in an attacking midfield role and although he understandably faded somewhat as the match wore on, the Scot showed flashes of why Norwich City paid Everton £8.5 million for his services and why Levein was so keen to bring him to Gorgie when the chance arose. Naismith was involved in almost all of Hearts’ early chances and it was only a lack of match sharpness that prevented him from giving Hearts the lead after he rounded Marciano but could only fire wide. He constantly interacted with Mitchell and Harry Cochrane, talking the youngsters through the game, and his arrival will surely herald more goals for Craig Levein’s side once he gets up to speed.
The midfield battleground
In Edinburgh derbies, much is made of the battle in the middle of the park. We know these fixtures are short on quality, full of tension and, if there is a winner, it usually boils down to the midfield. Prior to Sunday, Arnaud Djoum had never won a derby in maroon as the song goes, but the Cameroonian and his midfield partner Harry Cochrane had the measure of John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch for much of the 90 minutes. Neil Lennon had opted to play a narrow diamond and it was only when he brought on Brandon Barker and shuffled the formation that the Hibs midfield began to look like it might come out on top. Perhaps fittingly it was a midfielder – substitute Don Cowie – who got the final touch on Christophe Berra’s header to nudge the ball over the line. The Hibs midfield may have got the better of, or at least equalled, Hearts in the past few meetings between the rivals, but there was no doubting which midfield came out on top this time around.
Some may have been surprised when defender Christophe Berra opted to return to Hearts in the summer, the boyhood Hearts fan returning to Tynecastle after eight largely successful years south of the border with Wolves and Ipswich. Since his return, the 32-year-old has been in imperious form. Even when Hearts were struggling, Berra was coming through every match with pass marks. While goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin has played his part in the club’s run of clean sheets, it is Berra’s organisation at the back and marshalling of opposition forwards that has kept the run going at times. Levein knows what Berra is capable of, having handed him his debut as an 18-year-old during the pair’s first stint at Hearts, and even with half the season still to play, it would be no surprise to see Berra pick up the player of the year gong at the end of this campaign.