Maroon Memories: Hearts have bottle to secure third
Hearts secured their place in the UEFA Cup with a final-day derby victory over rivals Hibs.
There was palpable relief around Tynecastle at full-time after a victory which yielded their first derby win since 1997.
The Jam Tarts had looked assured of a European place three weeks previous having held a seven-point lead over their only challengers, Motherwell, with three matches to play. However, a loss against Rangers and just a point gained against St Johnstone, coupled with Well victories, threatened their grip of third spot.
At the start of the campaign, the aim was for the Gorgie club to win “their” league. That is, while Celtic and Rangers battled it out for the championship, the Capital club wanted to be the best of the rest.
Prior to this match, Don Goodman, of third-place rivals Motherwell, had attempted to psyche out the Gorgie squad by accusing them of being “bottlers”.
Goodman’s actions backfired badly. Jefferies later admitted his team talk was one of the shortest he had to give in five years at Tynecastle. And, on the park, his players showed that they were no chokers.
Passion and commitment were called for in this derby and it arrived in spades from both sets of players in a first half that wouldn’t be remembered for the football played.
Martin McIntosh and Grant Brebner picked up early bookings as the challenges went flying in, while Nick Colgan produced a superb stop to deny Juanjo a 20th-minute goal when the Spaniard looked to turn in a Gordan Petric header.
His inclusion may have raised eyebrows before the game, this being only his second start of the season, but in the 39th minute it turned out to be one of Jefferies’ more inspired decisions.
Picking up the ball on the right-hand touchline, Juanjo drifted inside looking to play a pass into the area. Nobody moved, and his options were limited. At one stage he actually threw his hands up into the air to urge his colleagues to move but, with Hibs defenders starting to crowd him out, he decided to cut inside.
Having done that, though, there was only one thing on his mind and Colgan was helpless as he then curled his shot into the Irishman’s bottom left-hand corner.
Their prospects of holding the advantage to the end were not damaged by the ordering off of the Hibs defender, McIntosh, for a challenge on Colin Cameron which brought his second yellow card.
The mood somewhat darkened however as Hibs equalised after the interval through Mixu Paatelainen, the future Hibs boss scrambling home after Kenny Miller’s header had come back off Antti Niemi’s post.
If the Hearts players were going to bottle it, then the time had arrived. Instead, they took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Hearts craved something special and, from a free kick, the impressive Lee Makel delivered.
His cross whipped straight on to the head of Gary McSwegan, who glanced the ball past Colgan from the six-yard line.
Hearts: Niemi; Flogel, Pressley, Petric, Naysmith; Makel, Severin, Cameron; Juanjo, McSwegan, Jackson.
Hibs: Colgan; Collins, Hughes, McIntosh, Lovering; McManus, Brebner, Murray, McGinlay; Paatelainen, Miller