There have been many occasions, too many some might say, when Hibs have departed Tynecastle merely thankful to have salvaged a point from their short trip across the Capital.
Not this time. A genuine sense of disappointment hung in the air inside the away dressing-room that all three points hadn’t been the reward for a derby day performance which, boss Alan Stubbs argued, couldn’t have been begrudged by anyone.
Hearts supporters will, of course, take issue with that observation but, at the end of the day, it was Robbie Neilson who was left to admit he was happier with the 1-1 draw, a result which keeps the Gorgie outfit’s unbeaten record intact.
Stubbs had promised that, despite the 19-point gap separating the sides, his players would be heading west intent on victory and, to that extent, Hibs were true to their word beginning the match full of verve, energy and confidence, an approach which seemed to unnerve their city neighbours.
It showed within 20 seconds, Alim Ozturk directing a pass straight into the feet of Hibs striker Jason Cummings, who managed only to fire a rising shot at Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander when he had the chance to play team-mate Dominique Malonga in.
Ozturk’s error was replicated more than once in those opening minutes, much to the dismay of the home supporters, as Hibs took a grip of midfield through Scott Allan, Liam Craig and Scott Robertson with David Gray and Lewis Stevenson providing width on the flanks.
So it came as little surprise when the Hibees took the lead, Allan producing another of those sumptuous inch-perfect crosses which found Cummings running off the back of Ozturk to guide the ball home.
“I’ve been waiting on that moment ever since they let me go as a kid,” admittedCummings, a reference to a spell with Hearts which was cut short after he picked up a serious knee injury.
The 19-year-old should have been celebrating again minutes later when Stevenson’s cross picked him out at the back post but he tried to be too precise with his header, directing the ball wide when he might have enjoyed more luck in putting it back across Alexander.
“I should have put it away, the deliveries were brilliant,” conceded the player.
As well as Hibs were playing, there was the nagging doubt that moment might come back to haunt Stubbs’ players, and it did, Jamie Walker finding half a yard on Allan to hammer a rising shot beyond the helpless Mark Oxley.
Level at half-time was scant reward for Hibs’ endeavour and predictably Hearts picked up in the second half, enjoying more possession although they were unable to exert any concerted pressure on Oxley while the Easter Road outfit continued to look dangerous on the break.
Hibs had a strong claim for a penalty waved away by referee Steven McLean when Miguel Pallardo appeared to barge Danny Handling in the back as he rose to meet a cross, and Danny Wilson was in the right place to head away a netbound effort from Callum Booth which had beaten Alexander.
Stubbs said: “I don’t think anyone would argue we should have had a penalty. Pallardo took Danny out in the box, a nudge in the back when he is going for the ball. I think if the referee sees it again it’s maybe a different decision.
“Then we have had a few chances but, to be fair to them, they defended well and got the blocks in.”
Stubbs had said before the match that anything other than victory would all but end Hibs’ hopes of taking the Championship title and that one automatic promotion place although, having gone into the game 19 points behind, overhauling Hearts had in any case looked a forlorn proposition.
Admitting he’d like to be in Neilson’s position, Stubbs said: “If I was, then I would be confident of winning the league.”
As it is, the play-offs are by far Hibs’ best bet of an immediate return to the top flight, troubled Rangers in their sights but with both Queen of the South and Falkirk breathing down their necks as they hold onto third place.
However, with the form Hibs have shown in twice demolishing Rangers and deserving more from the last two derbies than the draws they’ve been forced to settle for, that does represent a realistic route with Stubbs, pictured left, again insisting his rapidly improving side will get even better in the coming weeks and months.
The Hibs head coach said: “With the way we played I’m not saying I’m disappointed, but I do not think anyone would have begrudged us taking the three points. I thought we looked good in a lot of stages through the game. I thought we were very good.
“To come to Tynecastle in front of the leaders and put in a performance the way we did, the players deserve a huge amount of credit.
“I’ve said all along we have come a long way. I’ve got a great bunch of lads, they are the ones deserving the credit. I thought we looked bright on the attack, we looked a real threat and I thought we were clever in possession.
“But most importantly, I thought we were brave. I said we were going to come here and play. I was very honest in what we were going to do and the players, I felt, carried the plan out to the letter. One or two might have scoffed, but I said earlier in the season that we are as good as anyone in this division. We just probably did not start the season as strong as we would have liked. There are reasons for that.”
The sight of Dylan McGeouch returning after ankle surgery with Jordon Forster and Farid El Alagui also set to make comebacks over the course of the next few weeks will undoubtedly strengthen Hibs yet again.
In addition, Stubbs has made his first move in the January transfer window with the surprise arrival of Martin Boyle on loan from Dundee until the end of the season with Alex Harris heading in the opposite direction.
Boyle’s move was completed only hours before kick-off on Saturday, the forward getting an immediate taste of action as a second-half substitute only days after playing in the Tayside derby.
Admitting he’d been taken aback by the speed of his move, the 21-year-old, who helped the Dark Blues win the Championship title last season, said: “When the manager [Paul Hartley] spoke to me about coming here I was delighted. This is a massive club.
“Hopefully, I can score a few goals or set them up for my team-mates and go back up again.”