Edinburgh stars in east
Sauzee and Latapy shine brightest in Hibs’ derby feast as Hearts are eclipsed
IN EDINBURGH in Christmas week, all the stars were in the east. Hibs thoroughly eclipsed their city rivals in a distinctly entertaining derby, serving notice that after a fragile first third of the season, they have discovered their strengths.
Shining brightest were Russell Latapy and Franck Sauzee, players with the ability to rise above the melee of a local derby and make their talent tell.
Two first-half goals, from Dirk Lehmann and Sauzee, were augmented by anunprecedented Hibernian resilience in the second half, and a superfluous third goal from Kenny Miller in stoppage time. With the winter break looming, Alex McLeish was at last given evidence that Hibs can not only survive in the Premier League, but prosper.
Hearts, by contrast, were given a reminder of the quality threshold they have failed to attain all season and with this scoreline and the pattern of the game, were made uncomfortably aware that they lack any player with the technique,invention or speed of thought of the Hibs pair.
This is one of the few SPL fixtures that can guarantee a high level of competitiveness, given the sides’ parity this season in terms of ability and limitations. With the added ingredient of a passionate atmosphere coloured by a level of antipathy between rival supporters that always remains within the parameters of sanity, this is a contest that deserves to be recognised as a highlight of the Scottish season.
The game started in stereotypical derby style, all frantic harrying and chasing, every vigorous challenge relished in the stands. It looked like it would be played at a pace that was likely to suit Hearts more, Hibs needing a little more time to spin out their measuredpasses and overlaps.
Importantly, the visitors weathered the early flurries, Nick Colgan saving well from a low Stephane Adam volley. Once Sauzee and Latapy began to enjoy regular possession,Hibs looked easily the more threatening side, their passes finding alarming gaps behind the Hearts full-backs.
Complacency in the homedefence gifted Hibs the opening goal in the 18th minute. Latapy’s pass found Lehmann with his back to goal just outside the penalty area. In the absence of any immediate challenge, the German striker was able to ponder his Christmas card list, whistle a few bars of Silent Night and scratch himself idly before turning and directing a low shot past Antii Niemi.
At the Hibs end they were dancing like chemically-enhanced ravers from an Irvine Welsh adaptation, although the less exuberant Hibs fans were under no illusions that one goal would be enough.
Soon enough they had two. Again Hearts’ defenders were culpable when they failed to clear a Grant Brebner cross from the left. Steven Pressley could not make an effective clearance, and the loose ball fell to Sauzee on the edge of the area. The Frenchman has a phobia about passing up shooting opportunities and duly smacked the ball back through a crowd of players and past Niemi.
Hearts fans stared on in disbelief as their new goalkeeper picked the ball out of the net for the second time in nine minutes, while Hibs supporters with a sense of history demanded seven. Hearts rallied and put up a spirited attempt at a comeback. Significantly, their best attacking spell of the game failed to provide the goal that might have altered the outcome. Colgan produced three valuable saves before half time, touching a Colin Cameron shot round the post, parrying a swerving free kick from Fitzroy Simpson, and making another block from Adam.
Jim Jefferies replaced Simpson with Gary Wales for the second half in an attempt to drag his side back into the game, Wales being Hearts’interim measure before the desperate last throw of Juanjo, who duly appeared on the hour mark, without making any significant contribution.
Hearts might already have been out of it a couple of minutes after the interval whenHibs broke dangerously down the left, and Lehmann was just unable to make effective contact with Tom Smith’s cross. The visitors enjoyed substantial technical supremacy. The Hearts approach was energetic, but hardly precise. A speculative shot from Fabien Leclercq drifted wide from 25 yards out, as Hearts laboured to get a closer sight of goal.
Hibs taunted them with a move of such sublime incision it really deserved a goal. Sauzee and Latapy were the predictable culprits, the Frenchman sauntering past a couple of inept challenges in midfieldbefore finding his team-mate with an elegantly struck pass. Latapy maintained the quality level with a sweet flick between the lunging legs of Gordan Petric as he rounded the defender. Attempting to repeat the trick with Niemi he was unfortunate to see the ball deflect off the goalkeeper’s elbow and wide. Moves like this are tantalisingly infrequent glimpses of what some of these Hibs luminaries are capable of achieving.
Judging by Latapy’s bursts of invention, he was keen to get the game over with and get back in the warm. For a ten-minute spell in the middle of the second half, Hearts could not live with him. Niemi could only look on and pray as Latapy lobbed him from 25 yards. His prayers were answered, the ball dropped wide. The visiting fans gave us the traditional Jingle Bells song, bestowing honorary New Year’s Day status on the evening for the sake of a catchy chorus.
Hearts, wanting inspiration, could only battle taking risks at the back in search of a recovery. Cameron saw Colgan repeat his first-half save to deny them a lifeline.
The Hibs fans, forgettingrecent experiences, sang "We shall not be moved". Miller made sure in stoppage time, Pat McGinlay exploiting a lax clearance from Niemi to provide Miller with the simple job of prodding it past the goalkeeper while the Hearts defenders looked on in bafflement. It added insult to injury when Colgan made his third and finest save from Cameron right at the finish.
Colgan, Collins, Smith, Hughes, Dennis, Lovell (McGinlay 81), Sauzeé, Brebner, Latapy (Bannerman 84), Lehmann (Miller 78), Paatelainen.
Heart of Midlothian:
Niemi, Naysmith, Pressley (James 45), Petric, Leclercq (Juanjo 61), Severin, Cameron, Simpson (Wales 45), Jackson, Fulton, Adam.
Taken from the Scotsman