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Hibs 2–0 Hearts: The derby defeat we had Cumming

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Hibs 2–0 Hearts: The derby defeat we had Cumming

Hearts today paid the price for consistently lacklustre performances in this season’s derby matches when Hibs sealed a deserved and comfortable 2–0 win at Easter Road.

Having escaped the previous three encounters with at least a point, Hearts supporters were hoping to see a more aggressive approach from their team in the final derby of the season. Unfortunately, the first half was as meek an effort as any supporter will have seen in a long time from a Hearts team against Hibs.

When the title was secured a few weeks ago, Robbie Neilson spoke of his aim to experiment with different ideas in the closing fixtures. On the evidence presented in the opening stages of today’s game, it is highly likely that his 3–5–2 experiment will be moved to the pile marked “for shredding”, closely followed by the concept of Kevin McHattie operating as a makeshift centre back.

McHattie’s positional awareness is ropey enough when occupying his preferred left back slot, so it seemed strange to play him in unfamiliar territory in such an intense game, particularly with an established centre back warming the bench. On this occasion, therefore, it would be unfair to criticise him too heavily for his performance, as he was essentially thrown under a bus as a result of his manager’s tactical misjudgement.

Neilson appeared to acknowledge his own tactical brain fart when he replaced McHattie with Sam Nicholson in the 37th minute and switched back to a more familiar 4–2–3–1 formation. Unfortunately the damage had already been done seven minutes earlier when Jason Cummings (*grits teeth*) poked the ball in from close range to put the home side 1–0 up.

It was the least Hibs deserved in the circumstances, but if any Hearts supporter thought this would provide the wake up call that helped the team claw back a point in the previous two derbies, they were sadly mistaken. Although the formation had been altered, the passing from the backline was as wayward as it was predictable, with the Hearts attackers getting very little change from the Hibs defenders. Having talked a good game in the paper earlier this week, Genero Zeefuik was particularly ineffective in attack, with Osman Sow left to do the work of two strikers at times. While this had a lot to do with the poor service Zeefuik was given, he struggled with the frantic pace of the occasion and should have been replaced much earlier than he was.

The second half served up much of the same, although Hearts managed to look slightly more threatening than they had in the opening period. Jamie Walker came close with a fizzing shot that Mark Oxley had to tip over his bar, while a frenetic scramble in the six yard box saw at least three Hearts shots blocked by a wall of Hibs players in front of goal. Meanwhile, Hibs were unlucky not to double their lead when substitute Dominic Malonga selfishly elected to shoot instead of passing to one of his better-positioned colleagues.

As Hearts continued to pile bodies forward in search of another dramatic equaliser, any flicker of hope was snuffed out when a Hibs counter-attack in injury time culminated in Farid El Alagui’s neat finish past Neil Alexander, putting the result beyond doubt and consigning Hearts to a defeat their efforts had merited.

One criticism that has been levelled at Neilson and his players by some sections this season is that they have often looked overwhelmed in the bigger fixtures, particularly against Hibs and Rangers. On today’s showing (when you also take into account last week’s defeat at Ibrox) it is harder to argue against that theory. While the Hearts players have swept aside the rest of the Championship teams in ruthless fashion, too many of them have struggled to carry this intensity into the more high-pressure occasions.

Neilson himself has proved to be tactically astute for the majority of this season but has looked worryingly short of inspiration when faced with teams that could match Hearts in most departments. Luckily, the close season will afford the head coach some time to address these shortcomings and he will hopefully learn from them. Although it remains to be seen if it will feature an Edinburgh derby, next season’s Premiership will certainly throw up far more of these intense battles and Neilson and his squad will be judged on how he well they adapt to the more frequent, challenging circumstances.

Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on April 12, 2015.

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