Bruno the hero as Hearts hit back at Easter Road
These old Edinburgh rivals served up another thrilling feast of football at Easter Road this afternoon, as they contested the eagerly-awaited first Edinburgh derby for nine months. Hibs were the quicker out of the blocks when Steven Fletcher turned the ball past Marian Kello after just 90 seconds, but after coming through a shaky opening to the game, Hearts gained in confidence as the half progressed and deservedly went in level after Bruno Aguiar's precise free-kick on 42 minutes.
There was no let-up in the action in the second period, with substitute goalkeeper Janos Balogh three times saving well from Riordan, while at the other end Larry Kingston, man-of-the-match Aguiar, and Christian Nade all scorned decent opportunities to secure all three points for Hearts. In truth, though, a draw was probably the fairest result, extending as it does Hearts' recent good record against their neighbours.
And it was badly needed, not least because of the recent signs that the Jambos solid start to the season has started to unravel in the past few games. Indeed, the coaching staff decided to shake up the first eleven signiifcntly for this one, three changes made through choice, with Jason Thomson, Saulius Mikoliunas, and Jamie Mole all dropping to the bench to be replaced by Eggert Jonsson, Andrew Driver and Bruno Aguiar; and one change forced by the injury to Mike Tullberg - Christian Nade coming in to spearhead the attack.
While Hearts were succumbing tamely to Killie 14 days ago, Hibs had been putting Aberdeen to the sword at Pittodrie, although not without some assistance from the match officials. Nevertheless the 2-1 victory was their second on the bounce and saw them leapfrog Hearts in the table. Little surprise then that Mixu Paatelainen elected to keep his changes to a minimum, omitting only John Rankin in favour of Dean Shiels.
The main question pre-match had centred around Hearts attacking formation and who would support the lone striker this week. As the match kicked off, it seemed the honour would fall to Aguiar, but before we had the opportunity to see for sure, Hearts found themselves behind after only two minutes play. And as so often against Hearts, the main architect was Derek Riordan, who belied his slight frame to show deceptive strength in holding off Eggert Jonsson. Better still was his deft flick to release Colin Nish into the box, and although the former Kilmarnock man would have been entitled to go for goal himself, he instead squared unselfishly to Steven Fletcher, who slid the ball home easily from three yards.
Not a great start, but any Hearts fan fearing the worst at that point would have been pleasantly surprised at the response of the men in maroon. Driver, looking eager in his first match since the end of August, was a constant menace to David Van Zanten on the Hibs right and in combination with Kingston almost set up a quickfire equaliser for Berra, who headed powerfully against the face of the crossbar from eight yards
Hibs threatened again when Van Zanten's deep cross cleared everyone in the box, falling to Riordan at the angle of the six-yard area. His control was instant, but his aim was not yet true, and he smashed his rising effort into the side netting.
That was an isolated foray into the Hearts' area for the home men, though; for the most part it was the visitors who were on the offensive. And they should have equalised on fifteen minutes when Thicot's loose pass was picked up by Kingston, who fed the ball forward or the galloping Nade. Ma-Kalambay beat the Frenchman to avert the danger, but could only divert the ball as far as Kingston. It looked like he would stroke the ball into the unguarded goal; however, he got it all wrong and blazed high into the stand instead.
Another good thrust from Driver was repelled only by some desperate defending from Van Zanten and Bamba, then Derek Riordan took aim with a free kick from 35 yards, and although Kello looked cool enough, he would probably have been as relieved as the rest of us to see the ball spin wide of his left post.
Kingston was having a difficult afternoon, first miscuing woefully a free-kick from the left touchline before lofting another forward pass over Jones's head but unfortunately just too far ahead of the marauding Nade, whose improvised flick failed to trouble Ma-Kalambay. Riordan then had a weak claim for a penalty turned down as Hearts continued to give as good as they got, before Rob Jones joined Berra in the referee's notebook when he tackled Nade from behind in front of the East Stand.
Although in arrears, Hearts were playing well and more than matching their opponents in every department. All that was missing was the vital goal, and that duly came three minutes before the interval. Wallace's surge forward was halted illegally by Bamba at the edge of the box and forward stepped Aguiar to curl a superb shot low past Ma-Kalambay's right hand and into the very corner of the net.
It was just reward for the Portuguese's contribution to the first half and no more than his side deserved at the break, although heart rates were raised again first when Shiels screwed wide from ten yards and then when Kello allowed a back-pass from Wallace to run under his foot inside the box. Fortunately the Slovakian managed to clear to safety despite the close attentions Riordan.
There was a surprise for Hearts fans at the start of the second period when Janos Balogh emerged from the tunnel to take up his position between the posts. Whether his introduction was down to an injury to Kello or the Slovak's somewhat shaky first-half showing was unclear; however, there are no doubt easier first-team debuts in football than standing in front of the Famous Five Stand wearing a Hearts shirt.
First impressions were fairly positive, however, the Hungarian advancing confidently from his line to clutch a couple of high early tasters from either side of the pitch, as the home side set about making the same sort of fast start in the second period as they had in the first.
Hearts, for their part, looked far more switched-on than they had in the early period of the game and if their forward play lacked the sparkle of some of their better moments of the first period, they at least the fought resolutely and competed ferociously for every scrap that came their way.
Driver continued to show his usual energy and commitment wide on the left, and it was he who fashioned the first clear-cut chance on goal midway through the half with a driving run that took him from his own half right to the edge of Ma-Kalambay's box. When it came the shot lacked power, but still the Belgian keeper could only parry the ball to one side. Nade was first to react, slipping the ball back to Kingston, but the Ghanaian just failed to squeeze his effort through the forest of players inside the six-yard box.
Riordan then tried his luck from a free kick awarded in a similar position to the one that had earlier proved so fruitful for Aguiar. However, although Riordan also managed to get the ball around the wall, his effort lacked the precision of his Portuguese counterpart and Balogh was able to gather easily on the line.
The returning hero was in the centre of the action again with fifteen minutes remaining, this time latching on to a great diagonal pass from Murray and letting fly first time with his left foot rather than cutting back inside. The shot arrowed towards goal, but Balogh was alert and showed good reactions and strong hands to divert the effort away for a corner.
With nothing between the sides, Hearts continued to move forward with purpose, Driver and, to a lesser extent, Kingston causing endless problems from the wings, while the peerless Aguiar orchestrated matters from just behind the tireless Nade.
Despite the visitors' optical superiority the home side were never subdued, though, and they carved out a fine opportunity with three minutes remaining when Nish knocked down for Fletcher, who fired a left-foot shot just over the crossbar. That was immediately followed by a chance at the other end, Driver hitting the byline and cutting back beautifully for Aguiar, who miscued his shot from ten yards.
Most games would be petering out by this time, but not an Edinburgh derby, or at least not this one. Time still for a chance at either end, the first for Hibs, when Zaliukas got it all wrong with a short pass back straight to Riordan who had only Balogh to beat. The striker decided to round the goalkeeper, though, and Hungarian was more than up to the task, diving low to take the ball cleanly at the former Celtic man's feet.
And then as we entered injury time the final throw of the dice for Hearts, more clever play between Aguiar and Kingston on the Hearts left saw the Ghanaian slide a low ball into the centre where Nade was lurking. Under little pressure, though, the Frenchman looped his effort a foot over the crossbar to leave the teams with a deserved point apiece at the death.
Hibs: Ma-Kalambay; Van Zanten, Jones, Bamaba, Stevenson; Shiels, Murray, Thicot (Yantorno 79); Riordan, Nish, Fletcher. Booked: Jones, Murray. Subs not used: McNeil, Keenan, Rankin, Chisholm, Pinau, Cropley.
Hearts: Kello (Balogh 46); Jonsson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Kingston (Thomson 90), Stewart, Karipidis, Driver, Aguiar, Nade (Mole 90). Booked: Berra, Aguiar. Subs not used: Palazuelos, Mikoliunas, Makela, Ksanavicius.
Referee: Eddie Smith
Top man: Bruno Aguiar
Join Lawrence Broadie, Mark Donaldson and Gary Mackay for LIVE audio coverage - we're on air at Easter Road from 1.45pm