HIBS triumphed in a new year’s derby for the first time in 18 years since strikes from Kevin Harper and Michael O’Neil downed their Capital rivals back in 1996.
This was a long overdue success for the Hibs supporters, who had to endure taunts from their rivals across the city for many a year and they hoped it might herald a new beginning for the Easter Road side who’d found themselves mostly on the wrong side of derby defeats in recent times.
It was only after the first ten minutes that this match finally slowed down to something marginally faster than frantic. Hibs had set out with an obvious gameplan to play to a high tempo and pin Hearts into their own area. Hearts – in administration that season – could only react. They simply stuck out legs, flung bodies in the way and hoofed one ball after another clear of Jamie MacDonald’s goal.
While Hibs went with an unchanged side, Hearts were again shuffling their limited pack, with captain Danny Wilson missing from the backline. Jordan McGhee. 17, was reinstated to the starting line-up.
That simply reinforced the idea that, as had been the case every time these city rivals have met during that season, Hibs were the favourites. On paper, recent results and form pointed to them winning but that had been the case ahead of the two previous meetings and matters had not been as predictable.
Hibs won a free-kick in the second minute when Brad McKay felled Jason Cummings but, although the ball pinballed around the box, no-one could find the target.
As they came at Hearts again two minutes later, both McKay and Kevin McHattie threw themselves in front of a Scott Robertson shot. With one surge after another Hibs piled the pressure on their city rivals. They rattled shots at goal from the edge of the area and they rained balls in on top of the under siege Hearts defence.
Jason Cummings was the next to try his luck, but he couldn’t control the return ball from strike partner James Collins and Hearts again hoofed it clear.
Hibs were determined to get the ball into the Hearts box as frequently as possible, with boss Terry Butcher’s demands for greater positivity and instructions to pepper more shots at goal obviously being heeded.
But, with every squandered chance, every threat nullified by Gary Locke’s side, the tension levels in the stands rose.
Hibs continued to dominate possession after the interval but they still couldn’t get everything their own way.
Lewis Stevenson and Collins worked a one-two but the midfielder sliced wide, before Collins eventually opened the scoring in the 61st minute, burying his close-range strike into the roof of the visiting net. Butcher added the threat of Paul Heffernan to the forward line immediately after the goal.
Hearts came back at them in the 72nd minute, making things interesting when substitute David Smith beat Ben Williams with his second attempt after an incisive run from the youngster opened Hibs up.
In the past, that might have been enough to leave Hibs on their knees, the doubts about their ability to kill off their city rivals chirping away in their ears. But, if those doubts even raised their heads, they were quickly silenced as they pressed for the winner.
Man of the match Liam Craig delivered it with eight minutes remaining. The rejuvenated Stevenson was halted by a rash and needless McGhee challenge in the box and Craig held his nerve to send MacDonald the wrong way to win a fast and furious encounter.
Hibs: Williams, Forster, McGivern, Hanlon, Nelson, Cairney, Robertson, Craig, Stevenson, Cummings, Collins.
Hearts: MacDonald, McGhee, McKay, McGowan, McHattie, Tapping, Robinson, Hamill, Walker, Stevenson, Paterson.