Talking points as Hibs fall short in fourth-place bid as post-match scenes overshadow 1-1 draw with Hearts
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Edinburgh derbies are never short on drama, and there was plenty in this one. With the clock still in single figures Yutaro Oda had rather more time and space than he might have expected from Jimmy Jeggo’s headed clearance from a corner and the former Vissel Kobe attacker found the bottom corner, nudging the ball between the legs of Lewis Stevenson and past the outstretched foot of Joe Newell and arm of David Marshall. Tynecastle erupted.
But it seemed to jolt Hibs into life. Their attacks gained an edge, passes were more on-point. How typical, after a season of VAR interruptions, that it would play a key role in the story of the first half. Nisbet gave Natty Atkinson the slip on the halfway line and headed for goal, squaring to Chris Cadden who was brought down by Alex Cochrane. Referee Don Robertson pointed to the spot but after a lengthy VAR check, Cochrane was shown a red card but the penalty rescinded and a free kick on the edge of the box given instead.
Nisbet stepped up and sent a powerful effort into the bottom left-hand corner. Five minutes later Hanlon nearly put Hibs in front but his sweeping effort from the edge of the area was tipped over by Zander Clark, who followed it up with a save from Newell moments later. In first-half injury time Lewis Miller passed up a gilt-edged chance to nod Hibs in front, heading past the wrong side of the post from a corner.
Lee Johnson made two changes at the half, withdrawing Jeggo and Miller and introducing Ewan Henderson and Harry McKirdy, but that elusive second goal refused to come. Nisbet glanced an effort just wide, Zander Clark repelled a Paul Hanlon header, and Will Fish saw a deflected chance come back off the post. McKirdy blazed over, Youan stung Clark’s palms, but there was a creeping inevitability about the outcome of the game.
More injury fears
It might be the end of the season but with a quick turnaround ahead of the next campaign, Hibs will be rueing the injuries suffered by Chris Cadden and Jake Doyle-Hayes. The midfielder had his arm in a sling after being forced off with a suspected dislocated shoulder and there are fears Cadden has suffered a ruptured Achilles. CJ Egan-Riley faces up to four months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury and although the on-loan Burnley man is due to return to the Clarets at the end of his loan spell, it may further cloud his future – whether that’s at Easter Road, Turf Moor, or elsewhere. But the injuries to Cadden and Doyle-Hayes may well alter Johnson’s transfer plans.
Delferrière derby debut
When Cadden had to be stretchered off with 20 minutes remaining, the smart money might have been on Rocky Bushiri or even Mikey Devlin coming on. Instead, Johnson gave the nod to Allan Delferrière. The Belgian midfielder is no stranger to the first-team squad but hasn’t played since last season, although his performances for the development squad caught the eye including a hat-trick against a Newcastle academy XI. The change saw Josh Campbell move back as an auxiliary right-back with Delferrière slotting into midfield. While he didn’t influence the final result, it was interesting to see him get a chance in such a high-stakes encounter – and may offer a suggestion about his role next year.
Too little, too late
Hibs didn’t miss out on fourth place at Tynecastle; they shot themselves in the foot when they lost to Dundee United at Tannadice, or Motherwell at Easter Road, or drew with St Johnstone in the final pre-split game – or even failed to beat Aberdeen despite dominating at Pittodrie earlier this month. But there was something missing from the performance in Gorgie; some mystery ingredient that might have helped Hibs unseat their rivals from fourth. Johnson said as much after the game – ‘the boys looked for the golden ball too much’. It was Hibs’ season in microcosm – some promise, but ultimately falling agonisingly short when it mattered most.
There is always needle in these matches, but things were ramped up several notches when Johnson was booked for entering the Hearts technical area. He had a hot water bottle thrown at him as he made his way back to the Hibs dugout, while Marijan Čabraja appeared to be struck by a Hearts fan as he attempted to retrieve the ball for a throw-in – but it was the post-match scenes that could have the biggest repercussions for Hibs.
Johnson was red-carded after the game along with unused sub Rocky Bushiri, with both facing two-match bans as a result. For Hearts, unused sub goalkeeper Ross Stewart and goalie coach Paul Gallacher were also sent off for their part in the melee. Video footage didn’t look good for either side with players and officials clashing on the pitch. It was an ugly end to the season and had Hibs shown that much fight on the pitch at certain points during the campaign, the disappointing outcome of this match may have been irrelevant.
Johnson promised more ins and outs during the summer – fitting, given his post-match rant in the wake of the 3-0 defeat in January that sparked a mass exodus of players and the arrival of a small number of quality additions that ultimately helped Hibs come so close to that fourth-place finish. Hibs face a big summer once again – but for different reasons. Having shown signs of improvement in the second half of the season, they must now build on that to ensure a better season next year.