Reaction from Easter Road: Heat is on Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom
A derby defeat turned up the heat on under-fire Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom and brought some relief for Hearts manager Craig Levein, taking his side off the foot of the Premiership table and above their capital rivals.
But it was a match Heckingbottom will look back on and feel his players should have won, having been a goal to the good thanks to a Stevie Mallan thunderbolt only for Melker Hallberg to spurn the chance to add a second and take the game away from the Jambos.
Hearts, however, ended the better side, Uche Ikpeazu hauling them level as they forced Hibs on to the back foot before Aaron Hickey claimed the winner six minutes from time.
There is usually little new which can be written in the days preceding an Edinburgh derby, the current trials and tribulations of the capital’s two leading clubs at least offering something a little out of the ordinary. Dubbed the P45 derby, the sack race, this one was all about the men at the head of each club, two men under pressure given recent – and not so recent – results.
Another defeat to go with a litany of setbacks which had pushed both teams towards the foot of the Premiership table and, in Hearts’ case, the very bottom ahead of kick-off, would, so the theories went, result in the loser being asked to pack his bags.
However, the chances of Heckingbottom being asked to do so seem slim despite a number of fans gathering outside the main stand to call for his head. Only six games in would appear premature, but no doubt new owner Ron Gordon, chief executive Leeann Dempster and the rest of the board will be acutely aware Hibs have won only one league game in 11 since beating Hearts at Tynecastle back in April.
The corrosive effect of such a record is clear and few will anticipate it improving dramatically in the next week or so, Wednesday’s Betfred Cup tie at Kilmarnock followed by the visit of champions Celtic and a journey to Aberdeen.
While all eyes were on what was happening off the pitch, there was little expectation of much taking place on it, the confidence having been drained from both sets of players, lowering expectations of this being anything other than a dreary encounter, one in which the fear of losing yet again would far outweigh the thoughts of what joy a victory could bring.
And for the most part they probably got exactly what they’d been predicting in the opening 45 minutes, the sides cancelling each other out ,with Hibs goalkeeper Chris Maxwell – a big call by Heckingbottom in giving him his first league start – and Joel Periera at the other end untroubled.
What good there was as far as Hibs were concerned came from Scott Allan who produced delightful, teasing balls inside Hearts defenders for Daryl Horgan, Mallan and Flo Kamberi without seeing the desired end result.
But the stalemate was broken spectacularly two minutes after the interval, Josh Vela winning a midfield tussle and the ball breaking for Mallan. The midfielder has been quiet in front of goal for longer than he would have wished but Mallan rolled back the clock, unleashing a ferocious shot which exploded into the top corner of Periera’s net.
The game was there for Hibs and it should have been taken when the ball fell for Hallberg when Kamberi’s shot was blocked but the Swede made a total hash of his effort from barely 12 yards out, sending the ball wildly wide when he had the whole goal to aim for.
It was a huge let-off for Levein’s players, which they appeared to realise, as they pushed their opponents back towards their own area and forced a string of corners, one of which finally translated into a goal as Christophe Berra got his head to Ryotoro Meshino’s cross. The ball fell into a ruck of players but Ikpeazu, though grounded, managed to get enough on it to beat Maxwell’s despairing drive to equalise.
It got worse for Hibs when Ikpeazu used his bulk to hold the ball up waiting for Hickey’s run, the youngster took it in his stride and fired a shot which, with the help of a deflection, looped up over Maxwell’s head.
Christian Doidge, the £350,000 summer signing who again started on the bench, claimed to have levelled things in added-on time but the striker had knocked the ball out of Periera’s hands before putting it over the line.