Hibs are the new city slickers
McLeish’s men keep a winning grip on old rivals
HIBS manager Alex McLeish insisted last night that his club’s biggest derby win in 26 years was compensation to their supporters for two abject surrenders to the Old Firm in the league this season.
The 3-0 victory at Tynecastle, through goals from Dirk Lehmann, Franck Sauzee and Kenny Miller, was the first time Hibs have won on enemy territory since 1994 and the most convincing since they won 7-0 down Gorgie Road in 1973. Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager who is playing down a possible move to English First Division club Portsmouth, was on the losing side that day.
By contrast, McLeish has yet to lose a derby game since he took over the club in February last year and the win extends their lead over Hearts to four points, although the Tynecastle club has two games in hand. Unless Hearts can secure a surprise victory at Ibrox on Wedesday, Hibs will enter the mid-season break above their cash-rich city rivals.
It was a very different performance, and attitude, which Hibs had displayed when playing in Glasgow and McLeish admitted. "We were wimps at Celtic Park and Ibrox. I was very aware of that and made the players aware of how they’d let themselves down in Glasgow. We fell with a whimper in those two games so I told them today that if they came off the pitch having had a right go at Hearts I might not be happy, but I would be more satisfied."
McLeish, who picked out goalkeeper Nick Colgan for special praise following a succession of excellent saves, said that the three points had been more important than the eventual size of the victory.
"A result and performance like that is great for everyone at the club," he said. "The derby is very important to our supporters who’d forego everything to win the game. The score was a bonus, but I’d have beendelighted to have won 1-0 or even 4-3. As it was we were able to control the game and I can’t point the finger at any of my players tonight."
Lehmann, who scored the crucial first goal after 16 minutes, had been suffering from flu for the previous few days and had only decided to play yesterday afternoon.
"It was a good decision," he said. "Three-nil was perhaps exaggerated our superiority but we certainly deserved to win. I thought we played very well.
"We didn’t create many chances initially but when we took the lead we gained in confidence and passed the ball better. In the last ten minutes of the first half we began to sit a little deeper and at half time the manager said we had to push up again. That is what we did and in the second half we played much better again. We have played a lot of good games this season but this was the first time that everything came together. We scored some good goals and kept a clean sheet."
John Hughes, who had a supremely uncompromising game at the centre of the Hibs defence, added that the magic ingredients in the win had been "team spirit and a little bitof class".
The mood in the Hearts camp was predictably more sombre. Aside from explaining a defeat which meant his side has now won only one SPL game in the last ten, Jefferies also had to deny any knowledge of reports in England linking him with the job at Fratton Park recentlyvacated by Alan Ball.
"I don’t know anything about this. Nobody from Portsmouth has been in touch with me," he said. "Hearts are my only concern at the moment."
Jefferies is right to be concerned after another flaccid performance from a team which defended even worse without Paul Ritchie, who has now been exiled to Bolton,although the manager felt they had merited more from the first 45 minutes.
"I didn’t think we deserved to be 2-0 down at half-time," he reasoned. "We had most of the play in the first half; they had three shots and scored two goals."
But he admitted: "In the second 45 minutes we were disappointing. "The level of performance wasn’t as good as it was in the opening half even though that’s when we lost the goals. The lack of confidence worries me. We accepted we were 2-0 down and not going to score – we let the game drift away rather than impose ourselves on it. In injury time, when Colin Cameron had an open goal and still couldn’t score it just about summed up our performance."
That view, though, perhaps detracted from another fine stop by Colgan. At the other end of the park, it was not the best of debuts for Antti Niemi. The man who conceded five goals in the Old Firm game an unlucky 13 months ago conceded another three last night, although he could not be faulted for any.
"It was just one of those games," grimaced the Finn who said he had moved to Tynecastle to try and regain his place in the Finnish squad he had lost on the sidelines at Ibrox. "It can only get better."
Taken from the Scotsman