This derby had passion, drama and – from Hibs at least – spine-tingling commitment throughout. Had Hearts matched their hosts’ raw determination, in fact, it could easily have been remembered as a classic.
As it was, it was last season’s cup final at Hampden that seemed to be playing in the memories of a few participants. And, for that matter, in the minds of the Hearts fans who packed Easter Road’s south stand to the gunwales and mercilessly reminded their Hibs counterparts of the 5-1 win their side enjoyed last May.
By the finish, though, their taunts had fallen silent and their banners had long since been furled, for parity on the scoreboard masked what was a moral victory for Hibs.
When they were hammered by Dundee United seven days earlier, Hibs had looked to be suffering a serious cup final hangover at the start of the new season.
Manager Pat Fenlon even admitted that his preparations for this game had involved something akin to trauma counselling for those players who remain on the books at Easter Road after that ugly capitulation. If so, he clearly pressed all the right buttons.
So, too, did Alan Maybury and Gary Deegan, who both made their Hibs debuts. Maybury, formerly of Hearts, made one horrific contribution when a weak header back to goalkeeper Ben Williams was intercepted by Andy Driver for the Hearts goal, but the rest of his performance glowed with authority and composure.
Equally, Deegan, newly arrived from Coventry, made a silly tackle to pick up the first caution of the game, but he was a steadying influence thereafter. “We showed a lot of character and ability today,” said Fenlon.
“When you go a goal down after being the better team it can knock you back a bit, but the two players who were involved in the goal just put the incident aside and got on with things. For a younger player there might have been a problem, but after that, we were still the better side.
“But we owe the fans a lot more than just getting a point. They’re just waiting to get behind us. There were a fair few empty seats here, but it’s up to us to get the punters back through the gates.
“Maybe those who stayed away and watched it [the game was broadcast live] will realise there’s character here and we need them behind us.”
There was also a marvellous contribution, at both ends, from Hibs captain James McPake.
The central defender all but shepherded Hearts centre-forward John Sutton out of the game, and twice came close to scoring with headed efforts from set-pieces. McPake won man of the match, the champagne being handed over by striker Leigh Griffiths, who was equally as deserving.
Griffiths was something of a lost soul last season, but he appears to have put his issues to one side and is now concentrating on posing a danger to opponents rather than to himself. His clever 45th minute strike, between the legs of Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, put Hibs level, but Griffiths had already rattled the woodwork by that point and he was unlucky not to get another goal after the break.
Some of the spark might have gone out of the game in the second half, but Hearts manager John McGlynn all but admitted that his players had never shown much of a spark in the first place. “We never got going,” said McGlynn. “Fair play to Hibs as they closed us down and didn’t allow us to do that. But we fell into the trap by not helping ourselves. We gave the ball away cheaply and didn’t get anything flowing. This attitude of thinking it was just a matter of turning up backfired. A derby is a derby.”
McGlynn could at least be grateful that he still had 11 players on the pitch at the finish after a 20th minute incident in which Hearts midfielder David Templeton appeared to respond to a foul by McPake by lashing out at the Hibs player.
Hibs: (4-5-1): Williams; Clancy, McPake, Hanlon, Maybury; Wotherspoon, Deegan, Stevenson (Claros, 49), Cairney, Doyle (Caldwell, 68); Griffiths (Handling, 77). Subs: Antell, O’Hanlon, Sproule, Stanton. Booked: Deegan, Maybury, Hanlon.
Hearts (4-5-1): MacDonald; Paterson, Webster, Zaliukas, McHattie; Driver (Novikovas, 62), McGowan, Barr, Robinson (Taouil, 67), Templeton; Sutton. Subs: Ridgers, Grainger, McGowen, Smith, Carrick. Booked: Barr, Webster, Zaliukas. Referee: W Collum