Dylan's Magic Brings Hearts Derby Joy In A Roundabout Way
It wasn't meant to be like this for Pat Fenlon. After their humiliation of 'that' 5-1 defeat at Hampden, the ambitious and straight talking Irishman had led Hibernian on a revival of sorts in 2012-13. A late run of SPL form had led to another Scottish Cup Final appearance, including an incredible fightback against Falkirk in an amazing semi-final.
Defeat to Celtic in the final was almost inevitable, but European football was guaranteed for Hibs. Meanwhile, their city rivals, having so recently grabbed the headlines on the pitch, with an epic Europa League battle against Liverpool being just a few months previous, were sunk.
Hearts, as has been so well documented, finished 2012-13 in 10th, but more importantly in the brown stuff financially. Players leaving en masse, administration, a 15 point deduction for 2013-14, possible to maybe probable liquidation.
As the Leith club prepared for a jaunt in Europe, buoyed by that late season surge, things simply couldn't have been better down Easter Road way. How fickle, however, the footballing fates can be.
Their European dream soon became a living nightmare. A humiliating 0-7 reverse to a modest Malmo outfit at home completed a 0-9 aggregate pounding, the worst ever result by any Scottish side in Europe. Pride could not be salvaged last weekend, either, when Motherwell visited and took all three points back to Fir Park with them.
Which leads us to derby day. At last a bit of early season respite for Fenlon. After getting that monkey of their back in 2012/13, unbeaten in all matches against Hearts, and with home and away wins to boot, it seemed the perfect time.
At long last they could return to Easter Road after a Tynecastle clash with a second away derby league win in a row, the first time in over three decades.
If the green half of Edinburgh were confident, the maroon half were motivated but fearful. With the average age of the squad just 22, and a painful lack of experience all across the park, the Jamboes were desperately relying on many of the team being boyhood Hearts fans to inspire the hosts to something unlikely.
Despite being 621 of these being played before, derby match 622 seemed just as invigorating and frenzied. Despite the relatively low capacity of Tynecastle, the steep lay-out of the stands gives it a feel and atmosphere that are the envy of clubs up and down Britain. The 16,600 crammed in sounded and looked incredible at times.
If the passion and noise and spectacle was enthralling around Tynecastle, on the pitch it was altogether different. As committed as ever, with fierce tackling and the odd bit of needle. But both teams were hampered by a fear of losing, and as such clear-cut chances were few and far between.
Indeed, the busiest man in the opening 45 minutes was referee Craig Thompson, who booked five players as the challenges flew in. Unluckily for Hearts, though, Ryan Stevenson was the victim of a fair and seemingly innocuous one, and the Jamboes, devoid of almost any experience, saw their most experienced player off the pitch midway through the first half.
This was surely the time now for Hibs to get their season going at the expense of their seemingly doomed neighbours and at the start of the second half took the initiative. James Collins used his physical presence to shrug off a couple of challenges to shoot just past the post from inside the area, although he may feel he should have done better with another shot a short while later, that Jamie Macdonald saved easily.
James Craig then tried a cheeky lob, before then combining well with the grizzly bearded Rowan Vine, presenting Tom Taiwo with a clear run at goal from inside the area, but somehow put his shot wide when it seemed easier to score. Hibs were on top but their vast army of fans voiced their frustration. They knew what derby games were like.
Their fears became reality with 20 minutes left. Wide on the right, Dylan Macgowan got by his man, then near the bye-line, whipped in a superbly quick, accurate cross. Callum Patterson met it to perfection at the near post and bulleted a header into the Gorgie End goal, sending three quarters of Tynecastle berserk.
Still Hibernian came forward, this time trying to desperately salvage a game they should have wrapped up. Rowan Vine blazed over from inside the area after taking his shot far too hurriedly, then from a corner, Michael Hanlon headed over with the goal gaping in front of him.
By that time, Pat Fenlon knew the game was up. Just three short months ago, he was the toast of Edinburgh. Now, having presided over the worst Scottish European sojourn in history, and a humiliating derby defeat against a side ill equipped for and doomed to relegation from the Scottish Premiership, the heat is on.
It could be felt, that heat, in his comments afterwards. It was a litany of not being a million miles from a good side, only losing by one goal, needing just that one win to get everything going again. It seems, however, that Pet Fenlon is trying to convince himself rather than anyone else. He knows 0-9 in Europe and losing to ostensibly Hearts Youth side is a possible job-loser.
As for the delirious hosts, boss Gary Locke's words were those of a man who'd lost a hundred pounds at the start of the day only to find a winning lottery ticket at the end. "It's a huge win and I'm delighted for the supporters because they've been through so much this summer.
"The backing they have been giving the club at the moment is unbelievable. The players gave them the performance that their support deserves."
Perhaps not the performance, in the cold light of day, but certainly the result, which is all that matters in derby games. Even if there's been 622 of them. How many more of them Pat Fenlon will be a part of remains to be seen. But that's mere conjecture. For now, the result, the night, and Edinburgh, belong to Hearts.
Heart of Midlothian 1, Hibernian 0