Hibs always in control as they go eight unbeaten in derbies

Simon Murray scores for Hibs in the third minute at Easter Road
Simon Murray scores for Hibs in the third minute at Easter Road
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Simon Murray scored his 11th goal of the season but possibly the most memorable of his career as Hibs stretched their unbeaten run in Edinburgh derbies to eight matches.

Murray’s third-minute strike was his first since he scored against Rangers in mid-August, the flame-haired striker having found himself on the periphery of boss Neil Lennon’s plans in recent weeks.

Hibs midfielder John McGinn was in imperious form

Hibs midfielder John McGinn was in imperious form

But he supplied a stunning reminder of the threat he carries as he burst into Hearts penalty area to hammer an unstoppable shot high into the net.

Murray’s strike was all that separated the Capital rivals at the end of the 90 minutes but few would argue Hibs were well worth the win which takes them back above Hearts in the Premiership table.

The only complaint Lennon could possibly have had was that his players didn’t enjoy a more emphatic victory, Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin pulling off fine saves from Martin Boyle and John McGinn while Jambos captain Christophe Berra’s last-ditch tackle denied Murray a second of the game.

Ross Laidlaw’s blunder at Hampden last weekend cost him his place, Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano returning after a five-match absence to take over in goals while Steven Whittaker started in place of club skipper David Gray. The ankle knock sustained in the Betfred Cup semi-final defeat by Celtic ruled Anthony Stokes out, giving top scorer Murray a place in the starting line-up while Danny Swanson was also absent, the victim of a knee injury picked up in training on Sunday.

Along with Marciano, Murray and Efe Ambrose, on-loan Manchester City winger Brandon Barker was one of four Hibs players enjoying their first taste of an Edinburgh derby while for Whittaker it was his first in some ten years.

Hibs went into this game unbeaten in seven against their arch-rivals although this was the first time the two clubs had clashed in the Premiership since April 2014 and they got off to a dream start in only the third minute.

Murray cut in from the left before nutmegging his one-time Dundee United team-mate John Souttar to lash an unstoppable rising right-foot shot high into the net behind goalkeeper McLaughlin.

Hearts were clearly stunned by such an early setback and it took them a few minutes to regain their composure, a Paul Hanlon foul on Jamie Walker inches outside his own penalty area presenting them with an opportunity to get back on level terms but Rafal Grzelak wastefully blasted the ball into the defensive wall.

Seventeen-year-old Euan Henderson then gave Whittaker the slip all too easily, picking out Ross Callachan, who found himself thwarted 16 yards out by the combined efforts of Efe Ambrose and Hanlon.

Hibs had deployed Martin Boyle and Barker on either flank to make use of their blistering pace, a danger Hearts were obviously alert to and highlighted when Boyle outstripped Jamie Brandon to fire in a low cross which just eluded Murray at the front post.

But a long ball from Souttar found Kyle Lafferty running in behind Hanlon, his angled shot on the run ruffling the roof of Marciano’s net before the Northern Ireland striker laid the ball off for Walker, who saw his low shot easily smothered by the Hibs goalkeeper.

Barker was beginning to find a bit more space on the left side and he cleverly beat Michael Smith, who had already been booked for bringing him down, trailing in his wake again only for McLaughlin to take his final cross in style.

Hibs should have doubled their lead two minutes before the interval, Dylan McGeouch’s cleverly judged ball over the top releasing Boyle, who found McLaughlin quickly on top of him, the ball rebounding off the goalkeeper and into the path of Whittaker, who might have done better than blast well over from the edge of the penalty area.

Hearts resumed with teenager Harry Cochrane replacing Grzelak but it was Hibs who were immediately on the attack, John McGinn turning Connor Randall before unleashing a shot from 30 yards which whizzed wide of the target.

And Hearts had Berra to thank for keeping them in the game as McGinn turned away from Walker and drove left before firing a low ball across the face of McLaughlin’s goal, taking the goalkeeper out and looking certain to present Murray with a tap-in at the back post until the Scotland defender slid in to deny him.

Hibs were pressing for that second goal and had Hearts pinned down around their own penalty area, conceding two corners in quick succession, the second of which saw Whitaker get enough room to get his shot away but not beyond the maroon shirt which quickly appeared in front of him.

Hearts manager Craig Levein threw on Esmael Goncalves in place of Brandon just short of the hour mark in a bid to give the Jambos a greater cutting edge, their first corner having not come until the 60th minute and even then Souttar could do no better than deliver the ball into the arms of Marciano.

At the other end, McLaughlin was busier, getting down to take another cross seeking the attentions of Murray before Boyle wanted one touch too many as he came in from the right and another promising move for Hibs broke down.

A glorious ball from Whittaker set Boyle free down the right, the winger driving it in for Murray to take a touch before unleashing a shot which sped across the face of goal – much to the relief of McLaughlin.

Time was beginning to run out for the men from Gorgie and a third striker Cole Stockton was added to the mix, the need underlined by the fact that Berra’s 74th minute header which had Marciano getting down at his right-hand post was the first serious test for the Hibs goalkeeper.

But Hearts weren’t going to give up without a fight, Souttar’s free-kick landing at the feet of Stockton, who looked certain to score only to find himself engulfed in a sea of green-and-white shirts as Hibs fought to hold what they had, as narrow a lead as it was.

However, a terrific run from Barker eased the pressure, the winger taking the ball 60 yards up the pitch and laying it off for McGinn, who saw his low shot which looked bound for the far corner of McLaughlin’s net touched away by the goalkeeper’s fingertips.

And as has happened so often in recent derbies at Easter Road, it was the strains of Sunshine on Leith which filled the air on the final whistle.