Hibee History: Hunter the hero as he ends 22-match derby hoodoo

Hibs captain Gordon Hunter celebrates at Tynecastle in front of the club's fans, who had waited for so long for a derby victory
Hibs captain Gordon Hunter celebrates at Tynecastle in front of the club's fans, who had waited for so long for a derby victory
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IT was bound to end this way. The Hearts derby run which had threatened to outlast The Mousetrap hit the buffers on a day when they were the better team.

Paradoxically, justice was done for a Hibs team that had often been the better side during the 22-game unbeaten sequence set up by their rivals.

Their 1-0 win at last removes the strain which everybody at Easter Road has endured for five-and-a-half years.

And the gods allowed them the emotional bonus of a winning goal scored by their longest-serving player and captain, Gordon Hunter.

It did not make amends for all those years of torment but at least the celebrations had an extra dimension.

Hunter, the quiet professional who has been a Hibee for 11 years, is much more at home preventing others scoring but, if he could have chosen a single day in the year to get one of his rare goals, this would have been the one.

“I can’t remember it very well,” he said later, “but I know the day will go down as one of the greatest in my career.

After the time it has taken to get this result and considering how few goals I score, this was very special.

“It is great for everybody to get that run over. I think the derby fixture will be all the better for it. It means we can talk about the next one without the pressure of that record on both sides.”

Hunter, who played a major role in defence yet again, was one of three Hibs players who had taken part in the last derby won by the Easter Road side, in January, 1989.

Gareth Evans and Joe Tortolano were the others who felt relieved that the long wait was over.

Not only did Hibs put an end to their derby torture but in the process went to the top of the Premier Division, a place which confirms how good a start they have made once more.

They were nothing special against Hearts but, bearing in mind all the inner pressures they must have felt, that was not the best game on which to make judgments.

In fact, although it may not be saying a great deal, this was one of the more entertaining Capital derbies, one in which there was some genuinely decent football played along with the usual mad, helter-skelter spells.

Tommy McLean, who was the victim of Sod’s Law – he followed two managers who had never lost a derby, ergo was bound to lose his first – felt that his team had completely outplayed the opposition and maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration.

But in the first half Hearts had looked smart everywhere except in front of goal, although they did come up against an inspired Jim Leighton during that spell.

“In terms of stringing passes together we played them off the park,” added McLean, “but we got hit by a sucker punch.”

They also lost Gary Mackay, who was sent off after a second yellow card and did not have much cause for complaint, and maybe that took the edge off their play.

But Hibs were much more purposeful after the interval, anyway.

“We have played better and lost in these games,” said manager Alex Miller, “and we got the rub of the green this time.”

The manager was able at last to say what he had thought but avoided admitting – that the Hibs players had suffered a “mental block” whenever this fixture came around.

“It was not about fitness or skill or style or anything else. Ending the run will mean a lot to the players but it will mean even more to the supporters. I am pleased for them all.”

His own pain must have been considerable in the past five years as he saw three successive managers at Tynecastle emerge unscathed in derby matches, however well his own side played.

He hinted at the tension he was suffering in the closing minutes when Hearts threw over a succession of crosses into the penalty area.

“I will need to get rid of my watch. Every time I looked at it the time was the same. I am thrilled for all of the players but especially Gordon Hunter. He has waited a long time for this.”

The captain’s goal came 16 minutes after half-time when a corner from the left was nodded on by Steven Tweed and Hunter, who had peeled away from the centre, came rushing in to smack it firmly into the net.

It was at the right end, too, from the Hibs fans’ viewpoint behind the goal. They were due their celebrations, were they not?

Many of them had expected to see Pat McGinlay back in the fold, by this time bolstering a midfield that could use his kind of attacking skill. However, hard though Miller has tried to bring back his former player, it now seems unlikely that Pat will be swopping Celtic green for the Hibs variety.

“We made a bid that was not enough. We made another offer but the goal-posts had been moved and that was that.”

It has been Miller’s habit to try to have at least one new player in the side at the beginning of a season to add a little freshness to the dressing-room.

Last season, for instance, Michael O’Neill and Kevin McAllister were bought, the year before it was Darren Jackson.

Miller’s disappointment at not acquiring a new name will be compounded by the news that striker Keith Wright will be out of action for the next two months.

Wright, who missed the start of the season because of a groin strain, twisted his ankle badly in a reserve match come-back at Tannadice 12 days ago.

Hibs: Leighton, Miller, Beaumont, Findlay, Tweed, Hunter, Harper, Hamilton, Evans, Jackson, O’Neill. Subs: McAllister, Tortolano.

Hearts: Walker, Frail, McKinlay, Levein, Berry, McLaren, Colquhoun, Mackay, Robertson, M Johnston, Leith. Subs: A Johnston, Millar.