Sunday’s encounter at Tynecastle Park between the Capital rivals threatened to buck that trend with both teams trying to pass the ball about rather than just hoof it up the park and hope for the best. In the end, it would have been slightly unfair if either team had nicked it.
There were chances for both sides but this was a day for Craig Gordon and Matt Macey to showcase their talents. The Hearts skipper is a seasoned veteran when it comes to the derby but the new Hibs No.1, making his debut in the fixture, passed his test with flying colours – and flying saves, for good measure.
Big names missing – but Hibs cope
Hibs, missing a string of key players including Christian Doidge, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Melker Hallberg, and Jamie Murphy, were able to welcome back Chris Cadden, Paul Hanlon, and Joe Newell to the starting line-up.
The latter’s presence and composure in midfield has been sorely missed while Hanlon’s absence had shorn the defence of one of its best ball-players. Cadden’s boundless energy has been a big miss since his last appearance in early April. His versatility gives Jack Ross something extra in the midfield or in defence and allowed the Easter Road boss to change up his formation to account for those unavailable.
Newell returned to partner Kyle Magennis in the middle of a midfield four with Cadden and Josh Doig on either flank, dropping back to beef up a three-man defence of Paul McGinn, Ryan Porteous – who had a stormer in defence – and Hanlon when Hearts were attacking.
Up top Martin Boyle, Kevin Nisbet, and James Scott were constantly switching in a bid to make something happen in the final third. Boyle saw one well-hit effort go wide although Gordon looked to have got a hand to it, and forced the Hearts No.1 into a smart save while Nisbet mis-hit once effort from the edge of the area and looped another header over the bar.
Newell also had a couple of sights of goal; one that he sclaffed and another cross-cum-shot that spiralled onto the bar and away to safety.
Scott was struggling to exert his influence on the game and made way for Alex Gogic at the interval with Magennis pushing further forward and the Cypriot partnering Newell in the middle.
The change almost bore fruit as Magennis capitalised on a slack pass by Hearts centre-back John Souttar but his shot lacked power and was straight down Gordon’s throat.
The former St Mirren man then looked to have broken the deadlock 13 minutes from time only for the Scotland goalie to come from nowhere to tip his low shot behind for a corner.
Magennis went close again at the death while Gogic had a couple of long-range efforts that, on another day, might have gone the other side of the post.
Ross had moved Hibs to a back four midway through the second half with Doig and Cadden combining well on the left and Boyle and McGinn linking up well on the opposite flank. Doig in particular enjoyed the freedom to get forward with Cadden for cover and had one or two inviting crosses.
Should have won?
Jack Ross said after the game that both himself and counterpart Robbie Neilson would be able to make cases for their side deserving victory. For Hibs there was a nagging feeling that they might have done better with their chances. Boyle had probably the best effort of the first half right before the interval while Magennis had two opportunities in the second period to open the scoring.
But equally, at the other end, Hearts had chances too and found Macey in inspired form, or couldn’t direct their efforts on target.
Had Hibs not created the chances they did, that might be cause for concern. But there are a host of individuals capable of supplying the forwards with ammunition or attacking the goal themselves.
By the law of averages if Hibs are creating numerous chances, some of them will end up in the back of the net – provided Gordon isn’t between the sticks.
Doig and McGinn are both more than capable of bombing forward and whipping in a cross, Newell’s passing will add an extra dimension to Hibs in the final third now he has returned from an abdominal injury and Cadden’s crossing and energy another.
Doig in particular did not look like a 19-year-old making his first appearance in a derby at Tynecastle. The talented left-back showed maturity beyond his years to deal with Gary Mackay-Steven in the first half and Josh Ginnelly in the second as well as getting forward to support the attack.
More experienced players than Doig have struggled to have the same sort of impact as the teenager – and it will have done his confidence and his game the world of good.
Keep the momentum
Hibs now haven’t lost in four visits to Tynecastle, recording two wins and two draws, and continued their unbeaten start to the season. While a win would have been the aim, avoiding defeat allows them to continue their run of form and given Hearts have also enjoyed a strong start to the campaign, it could be argued that it was a good point.
Most fans certainly would have taken a draw, and presumably no further injuries, ahead of kick-off.
With more players returning to action Jack Ross has more of a selection dilemma for his starting XI but also a chance to name a stronger bench with more options for squad members who can come on and change a game.
The Capital club hasn’t been out of the top four since the start of last season – quite a remarkable achievement. If they can maintain the performance levels shown on Sunday or even build on them, they’ll be there for a good while longer.