Hibs made it nine derbies without a defeat but were left raging as a refereeing blunder robbed them of a first win in at Tynecastle in almost four years.
The Easter Road outfit were convinced, along with virtually everyone inside the revamped Gorgie stadium, that teenage striker Oli Shaw had put them ahead when he met Martin Boyle’s low cross to send his shot crashing down off goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin’s bar.
To the naked eye and confirmed by television pictures, the ball had crossed the goal-line but, to the disbelief of those in green and white and their 3211 fans at the opposite end of the ground, far-side assistant referee Sean Carr shook his head.
It was the second big call in only a fortnight to have gone against Neil Lennon’s side. Denied a clear-cut penalty as they lost to Rangers, the latest error was again costly as Hibs bid to cling to the coat-tails of the Ibrox outfit and Aberdeen in the race to finish second in the Premiership.
To rub salt into their wounds, both Rangers and the Dons won, beating Partick Thistle and Motherwell respectively, to ease further in front.
Ultimately, however, it was far from a classic derby, Hibs very much on top in the first half while Hearts obviously responded to what must have been some harsh words from boss Craig Levein at the interval. In the end neither goalkeeper was called into any meaningful service and even five minutes of added-on time couldn’t bring a goal to separate the sides, the Jambos claiming in vain during that spell for a handball in the penalty area against Lewis Stevenson.
In the not so distant past Edinburgh derbies were occasions to be endured rather than enjoyed by Hibs fans so few could blame them for basking in recent results against their Capital rivals, Neil Lennon’s players going into this fixture boasting of being undefeated in their last eight matches against Hearts.
Simon Murray’s early strike at Easter Road had offered them their latest opportunity to crow at their rivals and with that unbeaten record stretching back to August of 2014, they’d travelled across the city brimming with anticipation.
Lennon, however, had sought to keep a lid on things, arguing that his side arrived in Gorgie expecting to see a much different Hearts side this time round, Craig Levein’s team enjoying their own unbeaten run in front of Tynecastle’s new £15 million stand and looking to begin reasserting their authority over their visitors.
The pace of wingers Martin Boyle and Brandon Barker had caused Hearts plenty of problems on the flanks earlier in the season but on the tighter Tynecastle pitch the on-loan Manchester City youngster was left on the bench with Marvin Bartley drafted in to add some extra muscle in midfield.
Controversy and derbies go hand-in-hand and it took only seven minutes before Lennon was left raging, John McGinn picked out Boyle who supplied a low cross which Shaw met first time, the ball crashing down off the underside of McLaughlin’s bar and appearing to cross the line.
Television pictures showed that to clearly be the case but in the opinion of the man who mattered, assistant referee Carr, it hadn’t, a decision which left Lennon apoplectic on the touchline. It wasn’t quite as obvious as the Leigh Griffiths free-kick of a few years ago which was also ruled to have not crossed the line but, nevertheless, it was yet another dreadful call by the official and one which would easily have been avoided with the aid of goal-line technology.
Predictably, the opening 20-odd minutes were played at a frenetic, breakneck pace with little emphasis being put on getting a foot on the ball and trying to bring some semblance of order to proceedings.
It was Hibs, though, who’d enjoyed the better of things with McGinn looking to impose himself in the middle, a superb through ball seeing McLaughlin race from his area to win the race with Boyle, his clearance crashing off his skipper Christophe Berra but ricocheting to safety while a succession of offside flags from Carr also brought them to a halt.
Also to be expected, the tackles went flying in with Hearts struggling to get a foothold in the game, Kyle Lafferty, Jamie Walker and David Milinkovic all going into referee Steven McLean’s book in quick order for a series of late challenges.
The first half had been nothing but absorbing even if neither goalkeeper had been forced into a save of any shape or form.
If Hearts hadn’t posed any real threat in the opening 45 minutes it took them only four of the second period to cause Hibs’ a shock as Walker, evading the lunge of Efe Ambrose, fired a tantalising low ball across the front of Ofir Marciano’s goal. But none of his team-mates were to supply the slight touch needed for the game’s opening goal.
At the other end Boyle latched on to a clearance from McGinn’s corner to blaze a shot over before John Souttar came in with a sharp intervention to prevent Shaw reaching a front post cross from Ambrose.
Hearts, though, were becoming more assertive going into the final 25 minutes, Ambrose blocking Lafferty’s shot and then Marciano getting a good fist to a threatening cross from Walker before Boyle sent a low shot slithering inches wide.
However, it remained very much a game high in effort, determination and muscle rather than a silky free-flowing affair and, as the minutes began to ebb away, a single goal was increasingly looking likely to be enough to settle matters one way or the other.
And it almost came Hibs’ way as McLaughlin flapped at McGinn’s deep corner, the ball crashing off the unsuspecting Paul Hanlon at the back post and going harmlessly wide when it could simply have gone anywhere.
October’s match-winner Murray had been thrown on in place of Shaw and he looked to repeat the feat with a dipping effort which McLaughlin watched over his bar as Hibs lost Barker, who had replaced the injured Boyle, after only 11 minutes on the pitch, the winger the victim of a crunching but fair tackle from Souttar.
In his place came Deivydas Matulevicius, the Lithuanian striker apparently on his way out having failed to nail down a regular place in Lennon’s plans but handed, through circumstances, the chance to depart as a an unlikely derby day hero.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for the big man.