Selections, subs and stunning strikes - John Greechan’s Hearts v Hibs Tactics Zone derby special

The why and how behind the ‘what just happened ...’ in another thrilling derby courtesy of John Greechan
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There were moments in the first Edinburgh derby of season 2023-24 that would have driven any coach in football round the twist.

Individual lapses and blown assignments that defied explanation, when observed from the technical area or seat in the main stand.

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But none of what we witnessed on a breathless afternoon at Tynecastle happened entirely by accident.

In a game that was almost perfectly balanced, with possession split 50-50 and barely a hair’s breadth between the teams on any meaningful and measurable metric, the work done by coaches during the week – and over the course of 90 minutes plus injury time – had a clear bearing on the outcome.

From Alex Lowry living his best life in the half spaces between the Hibs back four and midfield, to the visitors successfully tweaking their tactics out of desperate necessity, there was plenty to mull over.

It is too simple, incidentally, to declare that Steven Naismith replacing Lowry just after the hour mark handed Hibs all the initiative needed to come from two down to grab a prized point on enemy territory; watch the game again and you’ll see that the visitors were clawing their way back into the match before the playmaker’s departure.

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But, yes, the substitutions made – or not made - by both Naismith and Hibs counterpart Nick Montgomery had a bearing on the outcome. Same as any other week, then.

Starting with the obvious, Photo 1 shows how the visitors’ distinctly laid-back approach to picking up Lowry – playing as a free-roaming No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 designed to exploit holes in the Hibs 4-4-2 – allowed him enormous leeway.

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Photo 1

That extended to the edge of the away penalty box, with Photo 2 illustrating just how much space he had to take a pass and get a shot on target.

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Photo 2

Even when Lowry was playing in front of the Hibs midfield pairing of Joe Newell and Jimmy Jeggo, outnumbered for most of the afternoon, the men in green seemed reluctant to engage, allowing him time and space to pick passes into the final third (see Photo 3).

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Photo 3
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When it came to using the ball, Hibs were happy to play out from goalkeeper David Marshall, Photo 4 showing both central defenders going very wide and inviting the central midfielders to occupy the middle of the park.

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Photo 4

But they were at their most dangerous on the quick counter, with Martin Boyle and Elie Youan combining to breach the final line; Photo 5 shows a break that ended with a booking for Cammy Devlin fouling Boyle out of sheer desperation.

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Photo 5

That midfield imbalance created by Hearts was always going to lead to problems for Hibs and, if you look at Photo 6, a snapshot of play just before Alan Forrest’s stunning opener, you’ll see the space just opening up for the winger. That’s where a No. 6 would/should be, marking the danger area to prevent just this sort of incursion.

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Photo 6

Hibs managed to settle themselves early in the second half, Dylan Vente dropping deeper to disrupt the Hearts build-up from midfield.

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The second Hearts goal was just a case of two attacking players getting confused over who was supposed to be closing down Lowry (Photo 7) at a recycled corner, the midfielder allowed to stroll in and hit a low, hard cross guaranteed to cause problems.

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Photo 7

Lowry being removed from the fray – a decision based on energy levels, as much as anything else, it seems – did raise eyebrows among home supporters. And, yes, Hearts didn’t look quite so dangerous with him.

But the visitors had already begun to play their way back into the game. And they worked for their two goals.

Elie Youan, kept in the game by Montgomery after a half-time lecture on the need to get himself more involved, took both chances very well.

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Photo 8 shows that, while a lucky deflection may have played a part in the first, the opportunity came from Hibs doing the right things. Getting players in and around the box, finding Vente’s feet and looking to play off the centre forward.

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Photo 8

And the equaliser? Yes, Toby Sibbick should just stick Martin Boyle’s cross into the stratosphere.

Instead, he plays it into the worst possible area (Photo 9).

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Photo 9

That’s an inviting shooting zone for Youan, now marauding in search of chances. And an area that probably should have been filled by one of the three central midfielders Hearts had on the field at this stage.

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It’s important to note, of course, that this game lost all shape and form the moment the second Hibs goal went in.

There were chances at both ends, moments of non-marking that defied logic (see Photo 10) and the usual post-match recriminations about who was responsible for what.

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Photo 10

Neither coach will be happy with the goals conceded. Each will take heart from some of the better football played at times.

Between them, Naisy and Monty will have plenty to mull over during another inconvenient international break.

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And maybe a few ideas to kick around before they meet again, at Easter Road this time, for festive frolics on December 27.

John Greechan is a UEFA-qualified coach with a Certificate in Advanced Tactical Analysis from Barca Innovation Hub Universitas, among other coaching and analysis qualifications.

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