Capital Punishment For Hibs - Again
By Gerry Smith
It's a lovely city, Edinburgh. Not only, with the Forth Bridge, the Royal Mile and the Castle does it boast eye-pleasing attractions, but the locals make it the place it is. Polite, funny, and sociable are the first three words that spring to mind when asked to describe its' population. Drunk may be a fourth word but that's by-the-by.
Every so often, however, on derby day, the mood changes and the split is as polar as the borderline between North and South Korea. You're either green or maroon, a Hibee or a Jambo. And if it goes against you, reach for that single malt and helpline number.
On that basis, the poor, beleaguered Hibernian supporters must be thinking of adding an appointment to a drying out clinic to all of that reaching. On yet another trying afternoon at Easter Road, their side were made to look like boys again. By their nearest and not so dearest rivals, themselves hardly out of school P.E. kits. Again. Leith is pretty much an unbearably gloomy place to be this evening.
It's not as if it's a sudden dip in form that has caused Terry Butcher's side to head towards the trap door of the SPFL Premiership relegation playoffs. Since their 2-1 victory over Hearts to see 2014 in with a bit of style, Hibernian have won just once in 16 league and cup matches, including a 3-2 home defeat to Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup. After today's capitulation, it's now no wins in 10 and no indication of that streak ending any time soon.
The most galling thing for the Hibees faithful is that Hearts didn't have to play well to win. Gary Locke's long-relegated side were solid, but created next to nothing, and spent long spells of the game sitting back deep inside their own half. It was almost an open invitation to secure their safety on a blustery afternoon.
A lot of sport, however, just like life, is played in the mind as much as on the field of play. As you took your seat, you could feel the worry, the paranoia, the concern permeating three quarters of Easter Road. The supporters were edgy and frightened, which without a shadow of a doubt transmitted itself to the players. You felt instantly that the minute's applause prior to kick-off, to commemorate the passing of politician Margo MacDonald, and Rangers and Hearts great Sandy Jardine, may well be the biggest noise Hibs fans made all afternoon.
For over an hour that proved to be right. Hearts, remarkably Scotland's in-form team with three wins and a draw in the past few weeks, were full of errors, feeling the weight of expectation from the unlikely position of being pre-match favourites. Hibernian, though, were so shot of confidence—playing teenager Jason Cummings on his own up front being an example of the lack of faith in themselves, that nothing of any note was created by the hosts—despite their territorial and possession advantage.
It being the derby day, they were bound to be punished for it. Again, it was clearly more to do with playing the game in the mind than on the pitch. Terry Butcher will have instilled in his defensive line the threat Callum Paterson posed at set pieces. Yet, from a Billy McKay corner in the 37th minute, the Jamboes full back was more or less unopposed as he nodded home with a looping header.
The Hearts contingent pointed to the Hibs dugout in their thousands and chanted cruelly "One Terry Butcher, there's only one Terry Butcher." They were still singing that when Hibs ignored the lesson given to them a couple of minutes earlier. A free kick was floated into their area, yet none of the Hibees back four picked up Paterson, who again headed over keeper Ben Williams and into the net from about 12-yards.
By this time Hibernian fans were already leaving Easter Road in their droves, nightmares of their previous relegation in 1998 swimming very vividly before them. For Hearts fans, it was the ultimate, delicious, irony. Already relegated before the season started, they finish it as Scotland's form side and possibly helping relegate their archenemies in the process.
To be fair to the Leith outfit, they stepped it up in the second half and deservedly found a way back into the game with 20 minutes left A quickly taken free kick ended with a smart Ryan McGivern cross into the area when Jordon Foster, one of the defenders absent for both visitors goals, made amends with yet another header, that Tynecastle custodian Jamie MacDonald had no chance with.
Hibs pressed for an equaliser, the fear and paranoia of a fourth derby defeat of the season now driving them on rather than scaring them. With five minutes left, it seemed it had arrived, too. A melee in the area left James Collins completely unmarked as the ball ricocheted to him. Three quarters of the 15,000 in attendance were already celebrating but, comically, Collins missed the ball and instead kicked the keeper. No doubt Mr. Collins' cat is safe tonight even if he feels like kicking it.
In the dying embers of injury time, Ryan Stevenson had a glorious chance to put the game to bed, through on goal with only Ben Williams to beat. His lob, though, landed the wrong side of the post, which seemed a notable feat, as it was clearly difficult to miss from his position.
Not that he or any Jam Tarts supporters minded much. They knew the match was won. They knew they had beaten Hibernian for the fourth time this season. For the home fans, this is the stuff of nightmares. As the final whistle blew, with by then Hearts fans outnumbering Hibs supporters left in the ground, the chant rang round of "Down with the Jamboes, you're going down with the Jamboes."
What started out as the Gorgie's side's worst nightmare, with relegation and possible liquidation, 2013/14 has turned instead into Hibernian's unthinkable being thought and played out. Whatever gloss Terry Butcher puts upon this, it cannot hide the disastrous run of performances and results. Six defeats on the trot, and three points from 10 games, is not so much relegation form as no form at all. Their confidence is more shot than a grouse on the glorious 12th.
The three teams below them, trying to avoid that relegation playoff spot, all have Hibenian to play, either level with them or only one point behind. Their task is simple. Defeat the beleaguered Easter Road outfit in their upcoming games, and it doesn't what they do elsewhere, they secure their SPFL Premiership status for another year.
On the evidence of this afternoon's performance, you would think Partick Thistle, Ross County and Kilmarnock are breathing a little easier this evening. For Hibernian and Terry Butcher, though, their breathing will be heavier than an asthmatic pit pony.
Once again, the evening, and Edinburgh, belongs to Hearts.
Hibernian 1, Heart Of Midlothian 2