London Hearts Supporters Club

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John Robertson <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Mike McCurry
[G O'Connor 8] ;[D Riordan 63]
15 of 020 Lee Miller 23 ;Andy Webster 88 L SPL A

Hibs' quest for Europe in balance


Hibernian 2 O’Connor (8), Riordan (63)
Hearts 2 Miller (23), Webster (88)

Referee: M McCurry. Attendance: 16,620

COMPARED to the twists and turns of the tussle for the title, and indeed to the fluctuating fortunes of this one match, the fight for third place has followed an undeviatingly simple script. The usual cliché is to compare a league campaign to a marathon, but as this particular contest enters the home straight it bears far closer resemblance to one of those desperate middle-distance races in which everyone is tiring and the athlete in the lead does just enough to hold on.

When Hibs have stumbled in recent months, their city rivals have invariably slipped up too. As Tony Mowbray’s side lost in Inverness, for instance, Hearts were going down at Tynecastle to a last-minute penalty for Rangers. And last weekend, when Hibs lost at home to Livingston, Hearts were defeated at Tannadice, again by a 90th-minute goal.

Try as they might, John Robertson’s team have been unable to close the gap on their rivals, and one reason for that is the Edinburgh derby itself. This season’s record - a win apiece and two draws - is one of parity between the sides, but in the context of previous seasons that is progress for Hibs. And crucially, when the pressure was on in the last two meetings, the Easter Road club were able to withstand it, winning at Tynecastle 12 days ago, then doing enough to take a point back at home on Saturday.

Aberdeen were the beneficiaries of this result, edging two points closer to third thanks to their victory at Motherwell. If they win at Hibs on the penultimate weekend of the season, they may then go into the last round of fixtures needing to beat Hearts to get into Europe, which means the Gorgie side may yet play a decisive role in determining Hibs’ fate.

In terms of doing anything positive themselves, though, this was Hearts’ last chance and they simply could not do enough to take it. One reason for that was a lingering consequence of the aforementioned match against Rangers: Saulius Mikoliunas, given a six-match ban for his actions in that game, has not been back in action long enough to recover full match fitness, and failed to unsettle the Hibs defence as much as he would at his best.

Mikoliunas was substituted with 20 minutes to play by his fellow-Lithuanian Deividas Cesnauskis, who tormented Hibs in the first half at Tynecastle. He too, however, was below par, in his case because of a viral infection which almost ruled him out of the squad. As Hearts, 2-1 down by that time, chased the game, Cesnauskis managed a few delightful, delicate touches, but in the end the equaliser came from a more direct method - a header from the unmarked Andy Webster after Paul Hartley had chipped a free kick into the box. It was ironic that Hearts should get back on terms from route one, as they had tried that approach ten days earlier without success, when giving more possession to Cesnauskis had seemed the obvious thing to do. Hibs held on for the few minutes that remained, but there was a deflated look to both sides at the end which was mirrored in the chants of the rival supporters - the home fans proclaimed the probability that Hearts will not qualify for Europe, while the away support celebrated Aberdeen’s result. Negative attitudes, no doubt, but they were only expressed after 90 minutes of unremittingly positive endeavour from both teams.

Hibs seized an early advantage when Garry O’Connor turned in Scott Brown’s cross from the right, and for a while after that they threatened to run riot. But the signs of Hearts’ recovery were there after 20 minutes when Mark Burchill’s header came back off the post, and three minutes after that the prolific Lee Miller grabbed the equaliser, slamming the ball home from close to the byeline after Burchill had headed on.

Another 40 minutes of play would ensue before another goal was scored, but not for the want of chances. Gary Caldwell had a shot cleared off the line shortly before half time, while Miller and Derek Riordan also came close. In the opening stages of the second half the bustling Amadou Konte began to make his presence felt, first producing a decent save from Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon and then heading into the net only to see the effort disallowed for offside. Dean Shiels then slid in to send a low cross just past Gordon’s left post, and Hibs were clearly back in the ascendancy. The pressure told when Riordan, who has acquired a compulsive habit of scoring against Hearts, picked up the ball on the far left of the box then drove an unstoppable shot into the far corner of the net.

There were fewer chances between that 63rd-minute strike and Webster’s header, the most notable incident being Miller’s dispossession of Hibs’ accident-prone goalkeeper Simon Brown in an incident which might have led to a Hearts penalty. The on-loan striker had been involved in a series of confrontations with opponents which threatened to continue down the tunnel at half-time, and if he keeps scoring goals and unsettling defences like this the asking fee from Bristol City will surely soon top the half-million-pound mark.

Miller was Hearts’ most impressive player along with Paul Hartley, while the commanding Caldwell and Riordan, if only for his goal, stood out for Hibs. With there being no one outstanding figure on the park, however, it would be hard to argue that a draw was an unfair result. And, no matter the four league results between the two teams, it would be similarly difficult to dispute Hibs’ claim to deserve a higher-place finish than their inter-city rivals.


TRAVESTY OR FAIR RESULT? Neither side did quite enough to shade it, and Hearts had enough late pressure to merit their equaliser.

VALUE FOR MONEY? Yes. A stereotypical no-holds-barred, fiercely contested Edinburgh derby kept most supporters happy.

KEY ISSUE For Hearts manager John Robertson, whose future is the subject of debate, Andy Webster’s late equaliser was a potential life-saver.

STAR TURN? No-one stood out, but for his spectacular goal alone, Derek Riordan gets the nod.

Taken from the Scotsman

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