Hibs staged a dramatic recovery to consolidate in third place and boost their hopes of European football next season. And to complete the night, there was also the sweet satisfaction of a derby win for the thousands in green and white to savour.
Pride, points and league placings were at stake. With both these teams suffering the recent disappointment of a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat, restoring pride and self-belief was the shared agenda, together with the quest for a coveted UEFA Cup place.
And if that wasn’t enough, there was always the small matter of an Edinburgh derby to spice up proceedings. As ever, the Tynecastle amphitheatre lent itself to the occasion, with the steep stands and touchline-hugging enclosures serving to amplify the sound and the fury of a Capital encounter.
On the quarter hour, Hibs’ Ian Murray was finally booked after three challenges which would have caused even an Australian Rules footballer to wince. It was that kind of game.
Only half-chances emerged from the clutter of midfield with Hearts’ Mark Burchill just a few inches from making proper contact with a cross from Lithuanian Deividas Cesnauskis. Then Hearts turned up the heat. Jamie McAllister delivered a searching corner and Lee Miller’s header looked to have found the net before being scrambled off the line.
At the other end, Hibs’ attack was conspicuous by its absence. Even the precocious talents of Derek Riordan and Dean Shiels found it hard to carve any opening from a no-nonsense Hearts defence.
The same could not be said for the visitors, and five minutes before the interval Hearts scored, courtesy of a clanger from the Hibs goalkeeper. When Lee Miller’s head met Jamie McAllister’s free-kick, no one could have expected a goal. Simon Brown seemed in control, ushering the ball wide with an outstretched arm when, suddenly, there was silence, and then the deafening realisation that the ball was nestling in the corner of the net.
On the resumption, Craig Gordon parried an Ian Murray blast as Hibs showed an intent redolent of nothing which had gone before. Riordan had the ball in the net but the referee ruled that Gordon had been fouled while kicking from hand, much to the fury of Hibs fans.
All was forgotten, however, in 68 minutes when Garry O’Connor took advantage of Gordon’s and Jason Thomson’s indecision to equalise, and four minutes later the Hibs hordes were delirious. Substitute Amadou Konte headed against the post and Shiels thundered the rebound into the roof of the Hearts net.
Hearts: Gordon; Thomson (McKenna 76), Pressley, Webster, Wallace (Berra 74); Hartley (Kizys 67), Cesnauskis, MacFarlane, McAllister; Burchill, Miller. Subs: Moilanen, Hamill, Stewart, Wyness.
Hibs: Simon Brown; I Murray (Thomson 60), Caldwell, Smith, Whittaker; Shiels (Fletcher 85), A Murray, Glass, Scott Brown; O’Connor, Riordan (Konte 60). Subs: A Brown, Hogg, Morrow, Sproule.
Referee: J Rowbotham (Kirkaldy).