Neil Lennon had left his players’ ears ringing as he flayed them for a shocking performance at the weekend but they left Easter Road on Wednesday deafened by the cheers of 16,400 fans after they’d sent arch-rivals Hearts crashing out of the Scottish Cup for the second year in a row.
The Tynecastle outfit had no answer to the cup holders, who completely outplayed them to win 3-1 and showed them exactly what derby-day football is about as they set up a quarter-final clash with fellow Championship club Ayr United.
A crowd of 20,205, the biggest at Easter Road since 1994, watched in almost disbelief as Ian Cathro’s Premiership players were left second best by some distance, Jason Cummings – the match winner in last season’s replay at the same stage of the competition – firing Hibs ahead with his fifth goal in six Edinburgh derbies.
And the former Hearts kid tormented his one-time employers even further as he provided fellow striker Grant Holt with the simplest of tasks to add a second before substitute Andrew Shinnie added a third, a goal which sent hundreds of Hearts fans scurrying for the exits.
Esmael Goncalves pulled one back after he had been brought down by Darren McGregor, the Hearts striker scoring at the third attempt after his penalty was saved by Ofir Marciano, who stopped his follow-up but was left helpless as the former St Mirren man finally bundled the ball home.
Hibs were dealt a blow within the opening three minutes when Chris Humphrey, one of three changes made by Lennon from the weekend, went down clutching his left calf, the winger replaced by Shinnie after a lengthy spell of treatment.
It was a blow for the home side, who had made a start to equal the super-charged atmosphere within Easter Road, the introduction of Humphrey and Martin Boyle a clear intent to use pace on either flank.
By that point, Hibs had already had loud claims for a penalty waved away by referee Steven McLean after John McGinn tangled with Tasos Avlonitis, and then a low cross from Boyle caused a few flutters in the Hearts defence as the Greek cleared the danger.
It took Hearts a good 15 minutes to create their first opening, Andraz Struna driving a low ball in from the right only for McGregor to step in front of his former St Mirren team-mate Goncalves. But, five minutes later, the Hibs fans erupted with joy as Shinnie’s superb pass split the Gorgie side’s defence leaving Cummings in the clear, an opportunity he wasn’t going to waste as he drilled a low shot beyond the helpless Jack Hamilton for his 17th goal of the season.
Jamie Walker had lame appeals for a penalty as he went down in turning Liam Fontaine ignored by McLean before Hibs should have gone two ahead with 32 minutes on the clock. Cummings’ superb free-kick after Hearts skipper Perry Kitchen had been punished for a high boot on Holt finding both Fontaine and McGregor free at the back post.
The Hibs defenders, however, got in each other’s way and Fontaine headed over before Hearts had another close escape two minutes later, Hamilton saving well from McGinn only for the rebound to fall at the feet of Shinnie. His shot was deflected over by Kitchen but, to Shinnie’s obvious anger, referee McLean awarded a bye-kick rather than the clear corner it was.
That annoyance disappeared, though, as Hibs got the second goal they deserved, Cummings allowed to run across the face of the Hearts defence before threading a delightful ball through to leave his fellow striker Holt in acres of space and the time to slip it beyond the horribly-exposed Hamilton.
Hearts were simply just happy to hear the half-time whistle, Ian Cathro’s players heading for the tunnel with a chorus of boos from those 3800 Jambos ringing in their ears.
Given how poor the Tynecastle side had been in those opening 45 minutes it was no surprise to find Cathro making changes during the interval, Sam Nicholson and Rory Currie introduced at the expense of Kitchen and Malaury Martin in a bid to inject some potency and penetration into their forward play.
But Hibs almost increased their lead right away, McGinn battling for possession deep inside Hearts’ penalty area before feeding Shinnie whose shot was blocked by Hamilton, the goalkeeper breathing a sigh of relief as the ball rebounded back off a maroon jersey and into his arms.
Cathro had claimed the superior playing surface at Easter Road would suit his players’ style, the first match at Tynecastle ruined by the state of the pitch, but there was precious little evidence of that being the case.
Hearts were certainly seeing more of the ball but, with that two-goal cushion, Hibs were content to funnel back and force their opponents to play in front of them while looking to spring forward on the counter-attack.
One goal, though, would bring Hearts right back into it and Nicholson fashioned a half-chance for Walker, who could only blast the ball high into the visiting fans in the South Stand behind goalkeeper Marciano who, with an hour gone, had yet to be tested.
Hamilton, on the other hand, was seeing plenty of action and he was beaten for a third time when Shinnie was afforded the space to stride forward and unleash a shot which went right through the young goalkeeper and into the corner of his net for Hibs’ third of the night. It was enough for hundreds of Hearts fans to begin to stream for the exits, dispirited and probably shaking their heads in disbelief from what they’d seen from a side with aspirations of finishing second in the Premiership.
McGregor, though, threw Hearts a lifeline, sliding in on Goncalves to concede a clear penalty which the striker stepped up to take himself.
It was a poor effort, saved by Marciano who also stopped his second shot from the rebound only for the ball to fall again for Goncalves to bundle home from a couple of yards out.
A messy goal but one which gave Cathro’s men the slightest of hope but McGregor thought he had atoned for that error when he rose highest to bullet home Cummings’ free-kick only to have the offside flag raised against him.
But it mattered little, for the second year in succession Hearts trudged from the Easter Road pitch as the opening chorus to Sunshine on Leith again belted out and the dream of holding on to the trophy it took them 114 years to secure still very much alive for Hibs.