Hearts were miffed that their near neighbours had no plans to give them a guard of honour as they took to the pitch at Easter Road for the last derby of the season – but at the end of the day Robbie Neilson’s players couldn’t get up that tunnel quickly enough.
Champions they most certainly are and, as the table illustrates, by some way.
But while the 26 points which separated the two Capital clubs before this clash would suggest a yawning chasm separates them, the head-to-heads tell a entirely different story. Yes, Hearts had won the first encounter at Tynecastle to leave Hibs with one of those “what ifs” as they reflected on Liam Craig’s penalty miss, while the following two matches saw the Jambos come from behind to secure a draw on each occasion and so extend their unbeaten run in the fixture to five.
But finally Alan Stubbs’ players got what they feel they deserved, a win which keeps their hopes of a second place finish very much alive and one which, following their midweek victory at Dumbarton, very much answered those who were writing them off as they wobbled against Rangers, Raith Rovers and Queen of the South.
However, as much as the three points were richly deserved, it was yet another nail-biting afternoon for those in green and white, with all they had to show for their domination of the first half being a Jason Cummings goal, the teenager’s 17th of the season.
In truth, it could have been all over before the interval, Hearts defender Callum Paterson’s head diverting Scott Allan’s free-kick onto his own bar before Easter Road skipper Liam Fontaine left the same piece of woodwork shaking with a thunderous volley.
All too often Hibs have been left to pay the price of failing to turn superiority into goals; Allan, Fraser Fyvie and Dylan McGeouch running the midfield while Hearts wingbacks Paterson and Adam Eckersley pinned down inside their own half, Neilson conceding the opposition were very much in charge by being forced to change his formation just 37 minutes in.
By then they were that goal down, Cummings showing his predatory instinct to get on the end of Farid El Alagui’s knockdown to scuff a shot into the corner of the net, a second goal in as many derbies for the youngster released by Hearts after a serious knee injury.
A single goal, though, hasn’t been enough to see Hibs over the line – not just against Hearts but opposition almost too numerous to number this season – and with Hearts greatly improved after the interval, there’s little doubt the nerves began jangle among the home support.
That said, Hearts rarely troubled goalkeeper Mark Oxley, the on-loan Hull City man getting down to push aside an Osman Sow effort, one of only two the Tynecastle outfit managed during the 90 minutes.
He was, though, thankful to Jordon Forster who threw himself in front of an effort from Genero Zeefuik which appeared destined for the net, although the big defender later insisted he hadn’t felt his side were in danger at all.
Forster, who made his first team debut in a derby win in Gorgie, reckoned this effort topped the lot, saying: “It was brilliant on the back of beating Dumbarton in midweek following three poor results.
“This was special, especially at Easter Road. I think we’ve repaid the fans for their support throughout the season.
“I think every player went into the game believing we were going to win. We started well and they paid us a great compliment by changing their formation.
“The second half was a bit scrappy but I think we managed the game well and fully deserved the three points.”
The win, though, wasn’t secured until the game had moved into added-on time, substitute Franck Dja Djedje feeding in Farid El Alagui, who kept his cool to knock the ball beyond Neil Alexander, his first goal since returning to action having ruptured his Achilles tendon almost seven months ago.
While the fans may have been gnawing on their fingernails, Forster insisted there was no such anxiety on the pitch, saying: “We felt comfortable. I never felt as if we were ever going to lose control of it.
“But when you are hitting the bar and things are not quite going in, it is at the back of your mind that you need to defend.
“At 1-0 it can be nervous at times, but when we scored the second it was a big party.”
Dominique Malonga could have eased that anxiety nearly 20 minutes earlier; the Congo striker, who had replaced Cummings, opting to go it alone when Allan’s run had pulled one of two Hearts defenders away to leave Martin Boyle in acres of space only to find himself ignored as the substitute, who was later replaced himself by Dja Djedje having suffered a thigh injury, lashed a shot wide of the target.
At the end of the day, it counted for nothing, thankfully as far as Hibs were concerned; the well-merited win seeing them regain momentum just when it is most needed.
Asked if he felt his players had rebuffed the criticism which had come their way recently, Stubbs said: “I think that we have always answered it.
“We had a couple of games before where we did not perform poorly but we got on the wrong end of the result – games that easily could have gone the other way.
“The result in midweek was fully deserved and I thought in this one we were great, especially in the first half.
“Hearts were better in the second half, but when they did have possession we defended really well.
“Hearts put some decent balls into the box, but we put our bodies on the line and got good blocks in when we needed to. I thought we were courageous.”
Stubbs insisted that he hadn’t been worried at Hibs being unable to press home their dominance in the match, but conceded: “As a manager you are never comfortable until the whistle goes and you have won the game. Football has an awful habit of kicking you where you don’t want it at times.
“Unless you have 100 per cent concentration for 90 minutes then the job is not done until the final whistle.
“I’d have liked the second goal to have come a bit earlier, but I was happy when it came in the end.”