Hibs seal late victory at Tynecastle
Hearts continued to make heavy weather of European qualification as they succumbed fairly tamely to Hibs at Tynecastle tonight. Derek Riordan's 80th-minute penalty was all that separated the sides in a match that was as dour as the weather that battered the fine old stadium throughout the game. Hearts quite simply did not show up, and must now travel to Pittodrie in search of the points that will take them into the Europa League qualifiers next season.
Csaba Laszlo made just one change to the side defeated at Ibrox on Sunday, Lee Wallace returning from injury to fill his usual slot at left back. Striker Mike Tullberg was the man to make way, as Calum Elliot, Bruno Aguiar and Eggert Jonsson all shuffled forward one. Ruben Palazuelos again missed out through injury.
Despite their much-publicised pre-match woes, Hibs made only three changes to the side that had lost to Dundee United at the weekend. Chris Hogg, Denes Rosa and Jonathan Johansson all missed out. Alan O'Brien, Paul Hanlon and Ross Chisolm stepped in.
Much at stake, probably more so for the home side who were looking for another vital three points in their chase for European football next season. And those high stakes, combined with the wind gusting unpredictably around the stadium, probably accounted for the nervy, fractured opening to the game.
It took fully ten minutes before we saw anything vaguely noteworthy. Even then, Wallace's barrelling run into the box owed more to industry and persistence than to any great craft. Good enough, though, to send the ball spinning high in the air for Elliot to hook goalward. Fortunately for Hibs, Ma-Kalambay was on hand to parry the effort to safety.
Michael Stewart then tried to inject some pace into the game with a quick free-kick towards Aguiar, but the delivery was overhit, leaving the Portuguese remonstrating forcibly at the edge of the 18-yard box, and the rest of us similarly bemused in the stands.
Wallace then stepped forward again to blaze a right foot effort a yard over Ma-Kalambay's crossbar, much to the delight of the occupants of the half-filled Roseburn Stand.
The unfamiliar kick-off time, and the large gaps at the one end of the ground lent an unreal atmosphere to proceedings, an atmosphere that appeared to be transferred onto the pitch, with the players unable to find any rhythm, and the ball battered mercilessly around the middle third of the pitch.
A rare moment of clarity did allow John Rankin to engineer a four against two for the visitors midway through the half. His neat pass left found Riordan in the inside left position, and the Hibs man was unlucky to see his low effort expertly turned away for a corner by Marian Kello.
Hearts' response saw Andrew Driver's deep cross gathered at the far post by Ma-Kalambay just ahead of the lurking David Obua, but there wasn't really much happening for the home side, who consistently sprayed their passes wide of the intended target and frequently off the pitch as well.
With just half an hour gone, the manager had seen enough. Christian Nade was summoned to the bench, and two minutes later he was on the pitch in place of the luckless Jonsson, a decision more tactical than reflective of the young Icelander's contribution to the game.
Whatever the change was intended to achieve did not become immediately apparent, however, as Hibs finished the first-half in the ascendancy. A series of corners were dealt with more or less competently by Kello and his defenders. They were all spectators, though, as Rankin worked a neat one-two with Fletcher before volleying wide from eight yards.
The second half started in similarly dissolute fashion, Aguiar lining up a 35-yard free-kick and then blasting his effort deep into the Gorgie Stand. Obua then wriggled into space wide on the right and delivered the first decent cross of the evening, a low ball along the six-yard line, which was missed first by Elliot and then by Nade before being scrambled clear by the visiting defenders.
That was just before the hour mark, Hearts by now having added a little more urgency if not more craft to their efforts. And that urgency helped carve out the best opportunity of the game for Driver with 63 minutes gone.
The winger watched intently as a deflected ball dropped towards him inside the box, then executed an arrowed volley towards the bottom left hand corner of the net. Ma-Kalambay, though, was equal to the effort. The object of much derision in Gorgie, the Belgian showed superb reflexes to drop to his right and push the ball wide.
Joe Keenan appeared for O'Brien soon after, and Hearts continued to huff and puff up front and live ever more dangerously at the back as they pushed forward in search of a winning. More than once they benefited from marginal offside calls; one in particular which saw Riordan run beyond Karipidis and latch onto an 80-yard clearance from Ma-Kalambay, before being halted by the linesman's flag.
We heaved a collective sigh of relief at that, but those sighs turned to groans a couple of minutes later. Riordan again set off in pursuit of a long ball and this time got himself goal side of Karipidis, who had little option but to haul him untidily to the ground. Referee Steve Conroy had no option either. Karipidis was dismissed, leaving Riordan to stroke the resultant penalty expertly past Kello.
Tullberg appeared for Elliot immediately afterwards, but the game was up for Hearts. One sweeping move down the right did have Ian Murray scrambling to clear ahead of the inrushing Dane, but a man up and a goal to the good, the visitors found they had few problems seeing out the final ten minutes of the game.
Hearts: Kello; Neilson, Karipidis, Zaliukas, Wallace; Obua, Jonsson (Nade 32), Stewart, Driver; Aguiar; Elliot (Tullberg 82). Sent off: Karipidis. Subs not used: Balogh, Kingston, Mrowiec, Thomson, Templeton.
Hibs: Ma-kalambay; Van Zanten, Thicot, Murray, Hanlon; O'Brien (Keenan 75), Stevenson, Chisholm, Rankin; Fletcher, Riordan. Booked: Stevenson, Rankin, Van Zanten. Subs not used: McNeil, Pinau, McCormack, Campbell, Cropley, Tolmie.
Referee: Steve Conroy
Top man: Andrew Driver
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