Hibs reaction: Paul Heckingbottom bemoans lack of killer instinct as derby draw dents Europa bid
Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom said his players had no-one but themselves to blame for blowing a derby lead which has put their hopes of a possible Europa League place in doubt.
The Easter Road side were within touching distance of fourth-placed Kilmarnock after Hearts skipper Christophe Berra turned a Daryl Horgan cross into his own net.
But rather than press on, the players, who had earlier seen Marc McNulty miss from the penalty spot, found themselves defending deeper than their head coach would have liked, allowing Uche Ikpeazu to claim a late equaliser.
As a result Hibs sit four rather than just two points behind Killie with only three games to play, leaving Heckingbottom to bemoan his players’ lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.
He said: “Sometimes you do not get what you deserve and I think today was one of them. But you cannot begrudge it, if you are not clinical at one end and there is only one goal in it doesn’t matter who you are playing, teams are going to get chances, they will be dangerous.
“So you are playing a dicey game if you try to hold on to one goal.”
Poor decision-making, stray passes and a lack of control all contributed to an untidy first half with the problems both teams contended with down almost entirely to their own shortcomings.
The normally so assured John Souttar set the tone for that scrappy opening, the Hearts defender allowing the ball to break off him for Stephane Omeonga. The little Belgian midfielder, though, couldn’t take full advantage of that slip, his run carrying him wide and his shot from a tight angle easy for Zdenek Zlamal.
It was a trait which was to continue throughout the first 45 minutes, sloppy passes spelling danger but when presented with the chance to capitalise on such instances, Hibs were just as culpable with the final ball all too often going astray. The upshot was little goalmouth incident of note other than a timely challenge by Paul Hanlon on Ikpeazu and a Daryl Horgan flick which looped up and over Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal only to nestle on the top of his net.
All the excitement in that opening period was crammed into the final two minutes, Jake Mulraney meandering forwards before unleashing a shot which had Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano acrobatically to his left to push the ball aside.
At the other end, Zlamal appeared surprised that Lewis Stevenson took on a shot from 35 yards, the Czech goalkeeper managing to beat down his ferocious drive with Berra on hand to complete the job as McNulty sought to turn the ball back across goal.
Heckingbottom, pictured, made the change he felt necessary at the interval, Vykintas Slivka replacing Flo Kamberi, the head coach explaining: “We had an idea they would set up that way, that Craig would do something different so we worked on shapes.
“If they went with three centre backs we knew where space would be but we didn’t make the most of it first half. We were good when we won the ball high, if the first pass missed the midfield out, but we weren’t dominating possession. Second half we were much better.”
Hibs certainly began to dominate thereafter, Stevenson firing in another shot from range which clipped the heel of Souttar and flew wide before the little left-back presented Slivka with a superb chance to open the scoring, an inch-perfect cross finding the head of the Lithuanian midfielder in space and only a few yards out. But he could only manage to redirect the ball straight at a grateful Zlamal, a miss which, however, was soon forgotten as Ikpeazu, back fulfilling his defensive duties, clipped Hanlon as he attempted to make a clearance, leaving referee Craig Thomson to point immediately to the spot.
Up stepped McNulty, with a record of three spot-kicks scored among his seven goals for Hibs but, on this occasion, he went for power rather than placement and succeeded only in driving the ball wide. Again, though, Hibs quickly put that miss behind them, David Gray slipping a ball to Horgan, scorer of both goals in that derby win at Tynecastle a few weeks ago, who delivered a low cross which Berra inadvertently turned into his own net.
However, rather than galvanise Hibs, Heckingbottom’s players appeared to surrender the initiative while Hearts sensed that, after all, there might just be something left for them.
And so it proved, substitute Steven MacLean providing the opening for Ikpeazu to slide home what, at least for a while, had looked an unlikely equaliser for the visitors.
Heckingbottom said: “We didn’t take our chances. We have had games where we have been really clinical and games where we have made it difficult for ourselves by missing chances and this was one of them.
“Second half was really good and,if you watch the goal go in, there was a mentality shift which is what we don’t want, we want to keep going, being positive.
“We allowed them to get a bit of momentum.
“We had opportunities on the break but final ball wasn’t great. We’ve played better than that before but also played a lot worse and won.”