Fletcher goal edges out Hearts in derby
Hearts slipped to their first defeat in five at Easter Road this afternoon, where Steven Fletcher's early header was enough to separate the sides in a disappointing encounter. Janos Balogh and Sol Bamba were both sent off in separate incidents just before half time, but even then the match failed to ignite to the levels you might expect, although Michael Stewart and Christian Nade both struck the woodwork after the goal.
Nade had returned to the starting line-up after replacing Adrian Mrowiec during the first half of the victory against Motherwell ten days ago. Other than that the Hearts line-up was very much along familiar lines, with Marius Zaliukas, free of suspension once more, taking up a place on the bench.
In keeping with their recent good record at this venue, Hearts started the match brightly enough, with Andrew Driver looking particularly sprightly when released one-on-one with the extremely makeshift right-back Sol Bamba.
It took only four minutes for the young Englishman to construct a first chance for his side, advancing swiftly to the byline before sliding a low cross towards the six-yard line. Michael Stewart had matched the winger's advance, but his first-time poke ruffled the wrong side of Gregorz Szamotulski's side netting.
David Obua and Nade then combined well on the other flank, the Frenchman showing a clean pair of heels to Rob Jones before chipping the ball back into the centre. Bruno Aguiar was there to meet it, but he could only direct his diving header straight back towards his team-mate rather than in towards goal.
It had been a tidy start from the visitors, but Hibs showed how threatening they could be on ten minutes when Robbie Neilson surrendered possession well inside the Hibs half. The ball was worked swiftly forward to Riordan on the left, and although both Stewart and Obua were in attendance, neither could prevent the striker from crashing a swerving 30-yarder off the junction of post and crossbar.
That warning wasn't heeded, though, and four minutes later Hearts found themselves a goal behind. Denes Rosa stretched the defence with a great diagonal ball to Alan O'Brien wide on the Hibs left, his inswinging cross was missed completely by Eggert Jonsson, and although Steven Fletcher mistimed his header, he still managed to get enough on it to send the ball looping over the badly-positioned Janos Balogh in the visitors' goal.
Hearts' response was fairly lacklustre, but they still should have carved out an equaliser midway through the half. Bamba did well enough to dispossess Driver on the left but then inexplicably tried to pass the ball back through a crowded penalty box to his goalkeeper. Nade picked up but could not force it past Szamoltulski from close range.
The injured Driver departed soon after, replaced by Mikoliunas, but it was the home side that should have increased their lead. Riordan's corner was flicked on at the near post by Fletcher, but found no takers inside the six-yard box.
At the other end, Stevenson's tough challenge on Aguiar went unpunished before Nade again failed to force home from six yards after sterling work on the left by Ruben Palazuelos and Lee Wallace. Obua then picked up the loose ball at the edge of the area, but blasted it over the bar.
Fairly tame stuff, but then just as we were preparing for a relaxing half-time cuppa, all hell broke loose. First Balogh was deservedly dismissed for scything down Fletcher midway inside the Hearts half after the striker had got goal side of Jonsson, before Bamba suffered a similar fate when he illegally denied Nade an admittedly less clear-cut goalscoring opportunity at the other end just a minute later.
Stewart was cautioned for his contribution to the minor handbaggage that followed, and then sensibly took out his frustration on the ball by curling a wonderful free-kick towards the top corner. Szamoltulski, though, was at full stretch and turned the effort onto the post.
With Aguiar sacrificed to accommodate substitute goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, Stewart was now Hearts main man at set pieces and he began the second half as he had finished the first, this time testing Szamotulski at the near post with a whipped delivery which the big Pole somehow fisted awkwardly over his crossbar.
After the fireworks at the end of the first period, we were expecting things to liven up in the second 45 but sadly the players seemed to have other ideas. Despite the reduction in personnel on either side, the home side appeared wary of opening up when they didn't have to, while Hearts were apparently unable to do much about restoring parity at the other end.
The main feature of the early period of the half was the bickering between Stewart and referee Mr Richmond, who certainly didn't appreciate the midfielder's attempts to gain himself a few extra yards at set pieces. Neilson too fell foul of the official's eagle eye, the full back penalised midway through the half after embarking on a walkabout at a throw-in.
That we record such details will give an indication of how modest was the football on display. John Rankin did twist himself into a decent shooting position 30 yards out, but this time his attempted "squiggler" squiggled all the way into the Famous Five Stand.
Dire stuff all round, with the only real excitement coming from set plays, as when Riordan's delivery eluded MacDonald, but found no Hibs man in the middle. Fletcher should then have wrapped things up with 20 minutes remaining after he was released on half-way by Riordan. Racing away from Jonsson, the striker had only the goalkeeper to beat, but MacDonald was equal to his low, powerful drive, dropping to his right to push the ball behind for a corner.
Hearts pushed forward in the final ten, but there was little pattern or belief to their efforts, which consisted mainly of high hopeful punts in search of a mistake from the shaky Hibs back line. It almost came off when Nade looped a header towards the unguarded goal after a scrappy stramash, but his gentle effort dropped onto the face of crossbar before the ball was cleared
Hibernian: Szamotulski; Bamba, Jones, Hogg, Stevenson; O'Brien (Keenan 68), Rankin, Rosa, Riordan (Murray 88); Nish (Van Zanten 46), Fletcher. Sent off: Bamba. Subs not used: Ma-Kalambay, Thicot, Chisolm, Johansson.
Hearts: Balogh, Neilson, Karipidis, Jonsson, Wallace; Obua, Palazuelos, Stewart (Mrowiec 75), Driver (Mikoliunas 25); Aguiar (MacDonald 45); Nade. Booked: Stewart. Sent off: Balogh. Subs not used: Cesnauskis, Elliot, Zaliukas, McGowan.
Referee: Charlie Richmond
Top man: Lee Wallace
Join Lawrence Broadie, Gary Mackay and Mark Donaldson LIVE from Easter Road today - on air from 12.15pm.