Neil Lennon has hailed his players for “doing to Hearts what Hearts do to most teams” as they went toe-to-toe with their Capital rivals in an electrically-charged derby.
Although his side left Tynecastle with a point despite having had Flo Kamberi sent off with 26 minutes remaining, Lennon was disappointed with the result, claiming the Swiss striker’s red card had changed the course of the game.
The Hibs boss, though, was delighted with his players’ performance at a ground where the Easter Road club had not won in five-and-a-half years.
But he was left bemoaning the fact they hadn’t taken a first-half lead as he felt their play deserved.
He said: “I thought we were good first half. We should have been a goal to the good at least, Stevie Mallan has hit the bar twice and Darren McGregor has missed a really good chance with a header; he should have hit the target from three or four yards out.
“Their goalkeeper [Zdenek Zlamal] also had to make a good save from a free-kick. We were in control and even ten to 15 minutes into the second half we were in control and doing what Hearts normally do to other teams.
“We were strong, resolute and looked a threat and then the sending off changes the course of the game and totally upsets all your plans and you have to make changes you don’t really want to make.”
Lennon revealed he had intended bringing on striker Jamie Maclaren in search of that goal to break the deadlock, believing the game was “crying out” for the Australian forward, but was forced to rethink his substitution.
Hearts had, he admitted, more possession as they sought to make their numerical superiority count but added: “I don’t remember Adam Bogdan, apart from one from Olly Lee in the first half, having a save to make and that speaks volumes for the way we played.
“We played the pitch right, we were physically strong, stood up to any challenge that Hearts had but I would have liked a bit more from our forward players.
“We had come here before and played with width but there’s no width so it’s trying to work out the best way to come here and play and I think that showed. We were dominant for long periods, we looked good and we had our fair share of injuries as well.
“Hearts had more possession but they really did not do much with it. I am really proud of the players, absolutely delighted with that performance.”
And Lennon singled out Marvin Bartley, the midfield enforcer brought in for his first start since the opening day of the Premiership season and given the captain’s armband in the absence of injury victims David Gray and Paul Hanlon.
“Marvin was superb, he has been great in training and unfortunate not to be playing more because of the form of Mark Milligan. The armband was something psychological. I wanted to give him it because he has leadership qualities, the players respect him and you saw that in abundance. I thought he was outstanding.
“He played brilliantly and read the game. Physically he has looked really good in training these past couple of weeks so it was a no-brainer to put him in.”
Bartley admitted he had revelled in the occasion, even if it was marred by Lennon being felled by a coin thrown by a Hearts fan behind the away dug-out, while Zlamal was earlier struck by a Hibs supporter.
He said: “I love it. I kind of enjoy the abuse – I think there’s something wrong with me. But I enjoy playing games and probably more so in the derby, I really enjoy it. It’s been a while since I played so it was good to be back out there.”
Bartley, however, revealed his own team-mates were concerned his comeback may be cut short following a booking in the 13th minute for a lunging challenge on Hearts captain Peter Haring. But, he insisted, there was never any danger of him being sent off.
He said: “To be honest, I thought I was going to win the ball so I went in hard. I felt something soft, obviously his leg. I thought I might be in trouble and tried to jog off but the ref pulled me back and said ‘booking’.
“I think the lads were more worried than me, but I have played enough games and I’m old enough to make sure I stayed on the pitch.”
And Bartley reckoned that he and his team-mates had played the better football.
He said: “The ball probably got a bit of a headache with some of the stuff that was going on.
“But that’s the way they play and you have to be respectful of that. It’s obviously been effective because they are top of the league. Each to their own kind of thing.
“If that’s the way they want to play then fair play to them, let them get on with it.”