London Hearts Supporters Club

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Csaba Laszlo <-auth None auth-> Charlie Richmond
Balogh Janos [S Fletcher 14] Soulemayne Bamba
11 of 021 ----- L SPL A

Effort and spirit glean Hibs v Hearts derby spoils

Pressure relieved a little from Mixu Paatelainen as Hibs continue their mini-revival with a dogged performance against Capital counterparts

ANYONE who was at Inverness only a month ago would have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief, Hibs unrecognisable from the dispirited, disjointed and apparently disinterested mob which meekly surrendered in the Caledonian Stadium.

Such was the per formance that day Mixu Paatelainen, who had stoutly defended his players throughout a miserable run of results, finally snapped, the Hibs boss laying into them in no uncertain terms as he questioned their attitude, effort and desire.

Paatelainen has since insisted he hadn't taken a calculated gamble with such an outburst, adamant he was merely being truthful, convinced that on the evidence before him each day in training those 90 minutes were a one-off, that his players had suffered a collective "bad day at the office" and had much, much more to give.

At that point, however, there's no doubt Paatelainen was under pressure, football being a results driven business which ultimately dictates a manager's fate, a growing number of fans giving voice to an unhappiness no doubt fuelled by the sight of Capital rivals Hearts motoring off into the distance.

A slight improvement, and a point, against Falkirk followed and then a much-needed win away to Hamilton which helped ease, but not entirely banish, the blues, the prospect of a derby clash with the high-flying Jambos a matter of concern for many who simply couldn't see Hibs halting the "other lot's" charge towards European football.

Against such a backdrop Paatelainen would easily have been forgiven had he decided to play safe, choosing a team with the thought of avoiding defeat more in mind than victory. As a player, however, the Finn was never one to shirk a challenge and now, as manager, he continues to show the same trait.

Rather than pack his side with defensive-minded players, Paatelainen opted for four forwards as he had at New Douglas Park, having finally appeared to have found a system in which he can play all three of his strikers, Colin Nish, Steven Fletcher and Derek Riordan.

Fortune, as the saying goes, favours the brave, and Paatelainen got his rewards for such a bold approach, his first derby win at the fifth attempt as manager, the pleasure, he insisted afterwards, just as enjoyable as those days when Alex McLeish's side appeared incapable of doing any wrong in this particular fixture.

Luck also played its part, as Paatelainen had insisted it would, Christian Nade sending a looping header off the bar in the dying seconds and goalkeeper Grzegorz Szamotulski acrobatically tipping a Michael Stewart free-kick onto the woodwork.

However, Hearts also enjoyed their slices of good fortune, Riordan smacking a stunning drive from 30 yards off the junction of the bar and post with Janos Balogh a bystander, while it took a good save from substitute goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald to prevent Fletcher adding to his 14th minute goal.

It was Fletcher's eighth of the season, the Scotland striker getting to Alan O'Brien's cross, the ball coming off his left shoulder as he attempted to get his head to it and looping over the helpless Balogh.

Hearts would argue it was a goal which came against the run of play at that particular juncture with Andrew Driver in particular giving Sol Bamba, preferred at right-back to David van Zanten, a torrid time before retiring early with a hamstring injury.

But Fletcher's strike accentuated the differences between the sides, Hibs sharp and incisive with the pace and movement of the 21-year-old and Riordan allied to the strength and aerial ability of Nish, while O'Brien prowled the right flank, making the most of a sumptuous crossfield ball from Denes Rosa to carve out the only goal of the game.

Despite a lofty third position, scoring has been a problem for Hearts, their only recognised striker Nade having scored just three goals this season and showing exactly why he has such a paltry tally when a terrible pass back from Bamba left him with only Szamotulski to beat.

The big Pole came out on top but you wouldn't have bet on that outcome had John Robertson been sniffing around the six yard box.

Fletcher might well have added to his goal seconds before the interval when he was set free by a terrific pass from Nish only to be upended by Balogh as he raced from his line. Quite why referee Charlie Richmond took a full minute and saw need to consult with assistant Derek Rose before producing the red card was difficult to fathom, as Fletcher confessed.

He said: "He seemed to dilly dally but it was a clear goal-scoring opportunity."

Hibs, though, would probably have been better served had Fletcher managed to avoid Balogh's reckless challenge and notch a second goal which almost without doubt would have put the game beyond Hearts.

The point was highlighted only minutes later as Bamba and Nade tangled, Richmond again taking an eternity before producing the red card much to the dismay of the Hibs defender, a decision which Paatelainen wasn't alone in thinking was taken more as a "levelling up" exercise.

Fletcher certainly didn't think his team-mate deserved to go, saying: "I honestly think their legs just tangled, I don't think Sol maliciously went to pull him down."

Paatelainen agreed, adding: "There was no question about the first red card, it was a clear cut decision. I thought the second was questionable. Sol was looking in the other direction, he turns and there was more of a collision. There wasn't any aggressive play and I don't think Nade was getting a goalscoring opportunity."

Chris Hogg was certainly in the vicinity at the time although whether he'd have got over to Nade in time to stop the Frenchman getting a shot away was debatable, possibly vindicating Richmond's decision.

The sendings off, however, killed the game as a spectacle, the second half rarely reaching the entertaining levels of the first as both sides matched up in 4-4-1 formations, Hibs withdrawing Nish to play David van Zanten at right-back while Hearts took off their most creative player Bruno Aguair to allow MacDonald to take Balogh's place between the posts.

There were opportunities for both sides to snatch a goal in the second 45 minutes but Hibs hung on to record their third successive clean sheet and a win which keeps their noses just ahead of Motherwell in sixth place. Paatelainen said: "I was delighted, no question about it.

"These matches are special days whether you are a player, coach, manager or supporter, they mean so much to so many people.

"I criticised the players at Inverness but I also said that 99 per cent of the time the work-rate and effort is there. I couldn't have asked for any more from them, training had been fantastic during the week and we got a performance, the determination, the effort was terrific, from the back four, through the midfield to the strikers."

Fletcher's goal was his second in as many matches after three months without one, a fact which delighted Paatelainen who commented: "I said before the match that when strikers go through a lean spell goals often come in fives and sixes.

"He's got two so let's hope it keeps going."

Like Paatelainen Fletcher has his fingers similarly crossed, hoping he's impressed the watching Scotland boss George Burley ahead of the vital World Cup qualifying match against Holland later this month. He said: "It's brilliant to be back scoring goals."

Having been sent off in the Homecoming Scottish Cup defeat by Hearts in January, Fletcher hopes he has made amends to some extent. He said: "It was disappointing that day but hopefully I've repaid everyone with this one.

"We've all been under pressure but we want to show we are good side which has had a bad patch.

"We took confidence from beating Hamilton and took it into this match. We are all together, we back the manager 100 per cent, we want to do it for him and the fans.

"It's all down to confidence and we have that back now."

Taken from the Scotsman

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