Less than a month ago assistant referee Sean Carr failed to spot Oli Shaw’s shot cross the line, this time Andrew McWilliam saw enough to send Hibs crashing out of the Scottish Cup, ending their recent derby domination over Hearts.
There’s little doubt McWilliam got it right, Don Cowie getting just enough on skipper Christophe Berra’s downward header to claim the only goal of the game and give Hearts their first win in the competition at Tynecastle against since 1966.
“It was brilliant to see the linesman do his job properly,” said Hibs boss Neil Lennon drily, “Amazing, absolutely amazing.
“It was a scrappy goal. I don’t think we deserved to win it but I don’t think we deserved to lose it, there was not much in the game.”
Both sides had chances to claim the opening goal long before substitute Cowie’s intervention, Hearts debutant Steven Naismith putting one wide after only four minutes before Martin Boyle had an even better opportunity, somehow sending the ball the wrong side of the post from only couple of yards out.
But overall, admitted Hibs captain Paul Hanlon, the Easter Road side – who had put Hearts out of the cup in each of the past two seasons following draws in Gorgie – just weren’t good enough on the day.
Conceding Cowie’s effort had crossed the line despite the efforts of John McGinn to keep it out, he said: “We’d been on a good run in the derby and done well in the Cup in previous seasons, so it’s disappointing to go out.
“And it’s the manner of the defeat that disappoints, as well. It’s not ideal, that pitch, but you have to adapt, change your game to what suits the pitch – or play your gameplan on it. We didn’t deal with it today.
“The goal comes from a set-piece but there weren’t loads of corners in the game.
“It was a scrappy goal to win a scrappy game, to be honest.
“It’s been good to be on this unbeaten run in the derby but Hibs and Hearts come up against each other a lot, so it was going to be broken at some stage. I’m just disappointed it was today.
“I think the fight was there, which you would expect in a derby. But, when we had time to get the ball down and play, we never did it.
“We rushed things, panicked a bit in possession. In these games, that’s the easy thing to do.
“The hard thing is to compose yourself and pick a pass. Too often we panicked and maybe took the easy option by putting it down the line, helping it on instead of showing composure on the ball.”
The two clubs had vastly contrasting build-ups to the match, Hearts enjoying the arrival of Scotland forward Naismith on loan until the end of the season while Hibs’ short journey across the Capital had been overshadowed by the fall-out from their winter trip to Portugal.
Anthony Stokes, Danny Swanson and Martin Boyle had all found themselves carpeted for “breaking a curfew” at the team hotel and although it was said the matter had been dealt with and a line draw under the affair, it’s since become clear that’s far from the case.
While Boyle made the starting line-up and Swanson, the subject of interest from former clubs St Johnstone and Dundee United in terms of a loan deal, was on the bench, it would have come as no surprise to Hibs fans as they arrived at Tynecastle to discover no sign of Stokes.
Neil Lennon had answered somewhat enigmatically beforehand “he might be” when asked if the Dubliner would be involved, but his absence for such an important match would appear to be a clear indication that reports he has kicked his last ball for Hibs are entirely accurate.
Without the 29-year-old, Lennon put his trust in teenager Oli Shaw to lead the line, with Australian striker Jamie Maclaren listed among the substitutes as was former Hearts defender Faycal Rherras, a surprise addition to the squad.
It was almost a dream start for Naismith, coming in off the left flank to meet a pass from David Milinkovic which had left the Hibs defence spread-eagled. He took the ball in his stride and wide of goalkeeper Ofir Marciano but, from 18 yards out, he put his shot inches wide.
The heavy snow which had fallen before kick-off and into the early minutes of the match only added to the thought that this could be another war of attrition, and certainly there was little subtle in the approach of both teams.
Goalkeepers and defenders had to be careful on the sodden, slippery surface, both Marciano and Jon McLaughlin paying just that little bit more attention to every ball which came in their direction.
With just one goal in their previous two meetings and Hearts boasting six consecutive clean sheets, making the most of chances was going to be imperative to either side and Boyle passed up a glorious opportunity when a flick from Vykintas Slivka, operating at the head of Hibs’ midfield diamond, left him coming in at the back post with the goal at his mercy. The look on Lennon’s face as he turned away having seen Boyle put the ball past wrong side of the post told you everything you needed to know about the finish although the winger did bring out a low save at that same spot from McLaughlin a few minutes later.
Hearts, too, had a wonderful chance to break the deadlock 12 minutes into the second half as a cross from Esmael Goncalves took out Efe Ambrose to leave new boy Demetri Mitchell coming in to meet the ball with a left-foot volley which appeared destined for the bottom right hand corner of Marciano’s net until the Israel internationalist somehow got down to push it away.
The game had been played at breakneck pace from the first whistle with little sign of it dropping even as the hour mark came and went, Lennon seeking to add even more to his attack by replacing Slivka with the lightning fast Brandon Barker.
However, it was Hearts who had taken the tighter grip on the game after the interval, Lennon countering by putting on yet another attack-minded player with Simon Murray, scorer of that solitary goal between the sides this season, coming on for midfield enforcer Marvin Bartley.
It was clear one goal was going to win it and it almost came when McGinn’s free-kick deflected for Boyle to race in at the back post. He made full-blooded connection but McLaughlin showed why he hasn’t been beaten since Xavier Tomas’ equaliser for Hamilton at the start of December, throwing up his hands to push it over.
And that proved to be the pivotal moment, Hearts breaking to win a corner of their own, Berra rose to head Harry Cochrane’s cross back down in the direction it had come and then Cowie getting enough to a touch to send it spinning away from McGinn’s desperate attempt to intervene and send the ball far enough across the line for assistant referee McWilliam to give the goal.