Kevin Thomson thrilled by Hibs’ character in fightback

Liam Henderson leads the charge after Paul Hanlon, below, had stabbed home from Neil Alexander's save to make it 2-2. Picture: Greg Macvean
Liam Henderson leads the charge after Paul Hanlon, below, had stabbed home from Neil Alexander's save to make it 2-2. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Hearts two goals to the good, match over. Well, at least so thought virtually everyone outwith that away dressing-room at Tynecastle.

Inside, Alan Stubbs and his players were simply bemused by the fact they were trailing their Capital rivals at all, far less by what looked to be a match-winning margin.

Perhaps a couple of seasons ago that would have been the case, but the side Stubbs has assembled simply doesn’t know when to give in, always clinging to the hope that, as long as that final whistle hasn’t sounded, they are still in the game.

Certainly, it was a different Hibs team to that Paulo Sergio came up against almost five years ago, the former Hearts manager paraded before kick-off as a reminder, if any were needed, of that day at 
Hampden, one which will live forever with the maroon half of the city and one which the other 
half wish they could simply forget.

Arnaud Djoum and Sam Nicholson had no doubt stirred the memories even further with those two goals within the space of 11 minutes which appeared to have set Hearts on their way to another comfortable victory and to have sealed their place in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.

The first, a stunning shot from Djoum which left Hibs goalkeeper Mark Oxley helpless as it crashed in off his right-hand post, came just 60 seconds after Kevin Thomson had made his debut, third time round, in a green-and-white shirt, stepping from the bench to replace the crocked Dylan McGeouch.

And, when Nicholson took advantage of some slack defending to double Hearts’ lead, the veteran midfielder admitted he was frustrated to find himself in such a position having hardly had a touch of the ball.

Thomson has been in the game long enough, however, to know a 2-0 lead can, despite appearing rather comfortable, be somewhat precarious as momentum can swing with just one goal from the opposition.

The 31-year-old said: “It felt like a kick in the teeth. They’d had two shots and scored twice. Being in a place like this you know you are up against it.

“But we felt if we kept playing we’d have a chance of getting a chance to put the ball into the net. In any big game when you are 2-0 up and concede, it can get a bit panicky. It’s an old cliché but you always say at 2-0 down if you score you have a chance of getting back in to the game.

“The character we showed was terrific. The manager said at half-time we’d been playing well, that we just had to keep on going, doing what we were doing, passing the ball and I thought in the second half, having played so many derbies here, it felt like waves of attacks from us and that we were going to go on and win.”

However, for all Hibs had made the more determined start, looking eager to get on with things at every opportunity, they only had a John McGinn effort to show for their efforts which was superbly pushed away by Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander. Hearts, on the other hand, were clinical. As Thomson said, two shots, two goals.

Time and again, though, Stubbs’ players have shown that contrary to popular opinion they do have the bottle for big occasions, Thomson revealing that as the “golden oldie” of the Easter Road squad he’s loving being around such a young group of players.

He said: “There’s a terrific team spirt, a great bond, real characters. It’s reminding me of being young again. I just love the banter, the camaraderie among the boys. The gaffer and John Doolan and Andy Holden are terrific. There’s just a real good feel about the place and it’s nice to be back involved. I feel like a footy player again.

“Hopefully, I can get a run of games to show everyone what I can do.”

Having engineered that two-goal lead, Hearts looked as if they were content the job was done, boss Robbie Neilson opting to drop into a 4-5-1 formation to hit Hibs on the break as time became the enemy but it also allowed Hibs to build up a head of steam. McGinn and Liam Henderson drove their side forward as they have done all season – even if Jason Cummings and Anthony Stokes found the openings they were craving difficult to come by.

But, just as it looked as if all hope had gone, one flick of Cummings’ golden locks, meeting Henderson’s cross to steer a looping header into the top corner of the net, breathed new life into those in green and white.

Agonisingly, the clock continued to run down but, just as fourth official Kevin Clancy raised his board to reveal an additional four minutes, Paul Hanlon sent the 3473 Hibs fans behind Alexander’s goal wild, the defender’s feet going from under him as he stretched to meet the ball after the goalkeeper had pulled off a fantastic reflex save, thrusting his left hand out to turn away Darren McGregor’s netbound header.

But even so Hanlon managed to steer it back goalwards, the ball hurtling through a forest of bodies and across the line.

As Thomson and his team-mates were to argue, it was no more than they deserved, but they almost contrived to throw it all away, Niklas Gunnarsson’s sliced clearance clipping the top of his bar and out for a corner from which Blazej Augustyn powered goalwards only for Thomson, on his own goal-line, to nod clear.

Thomson said: “It would have been typical Hibs but thankfully I was in the right place.

“But we felt if we’d had another three or four minutes we might have gone on to win. We were the team in the ascendancy. They were looking to sit in and hit on the counter and the only times they looked dangerous was from a sloppy pass from one of us.”

Asked if Hibs were now favourites to win the replay a week tomorrow by dint of the fact they’ll be at home, Thomson asked: “Are there favourites in derbies?

“Hearts are a big, physical team but there wasn’t a lot between us. I think our boys deserve a lot of plaudits, many of them going to Tynecastle, an intimidating place to play, for the first time. We are quite a young team but we stood up to it and we will look forward to the next game.”

Hibs have now faced four Premiership sides this season and not lost, a fact which many feel underlines the assertion they are a club that’s simply trapped in the wrong league.

As a Hibs fan, Thomson would agree but he added: “Like Rangers, we should be in the Premiership. Unfortunately, these are the things that happen in football.

“But I think the manager is building a team that could play there. We have shown in our cup games we can compete with such clubs. Unfortunately we are in the Championship and we have to keep working hard to get the club back to where it belongs.”

That, of course, remains the top priority for Stubbs amid the anticipation of next month’s League Cup final and now, an unexpected second Edinburgh derby of the season but there’s no reason why he, his players and their fans can’t enjoy their tilts at the top-flight clubs.

Knowing they’ve already beaten Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone thus far, they’d love to extend that run by adding Hearts to that list.