Derby victory brightens up twilight years for Hughes At the ripe old age of 35, a Hibs stalwart relishes his leading role in the eclipse of Hearts
21 Dec 1999
LIKE most players in the twilight stage of their careers, John Hughes has learned to savour every joyous moment that comes his way these days, and they do not come much more joyous for a Hibernian player than a 3-0 win over capital rivals Hearts in the last derby between the clubs of the millennium.
The delight is compounded if you are a Hibs fan anyway and Hughes is that of long-standing.The former Falkirk and Celtic defender gave a superb display at the back for Hibernian on Sunday as they earned their first victory at Tynecastle for five years.
It was also their biggest winning margin there since 1973.
Goals from Dirk Lehmann, Franck Sauzee, and substitute Kenny Miller did the trick at the front end, with three goals, but the defence also made a major contribution to the result that sent the Hibees home in singing mode.
Hughes, now 35, knows time is running out for him at Scottish Premier League level.
That meant he relished the post-match scenes after the final whistle as the Hibs players saluted their jubilant travelling support behind the goal.
Hughes said: ''I'm getting on and I don't think I'll have too many derbies left.
I'd love to go on as long as I can, but I made sure I took it all in.
''For me, it was one for our fans.
I'm sure every Hibs fan stayed right until the end and I made sure I enjoyed the moment with them.
It was an absolutely brilliant feeling for them.
''The players will enjoy it too, but we know we have to keep our feet firmly on the ground.
We've another game before the shutdown and we know Kilmarnock will be coming to Easter Road to turn us over.
''I felt before the Hearts game that things were coming together for us and that's how it turned out.
Our tactics were bang on.
Now the confidence is there and we have to be looking at a top-half finish.'' Manager Alex McLeish paid tribute to his backline, who have been criticised at times this season for letting slip leads gained during matches and which has seen Hibs drop vital points.
He said: ''There was a belief and application about us which really pleased me last night.
Our defence has been much-maligned.
At times, that's been justified, but in many ways it's been unfair.
We're quite an attacking team and that can leave us vulnerable at the back at times.'' Hibs did benefit from several fine saves from goalkeeper Nick Colgan, notably an injury-time stop from Colin Cameron, but the former Chelsea man was keen to share the plaudits.
Colgan said: ''Derby games are always hyped up and mean a lot.
I felt we gave a controlled passing display.
It's great for the fans and we are absolutely delighted for them.
''We started off well and scored two great goals in the first half.
To be honest, we didn't want to sit back and we always looked as if we could nick a few goals.'' For Hearts, the heavy loss leaves manager Jim Jefferies with much to ponder - including whether he should have replaced new midfield man Fitzroy Simpson at the interval.
The #50,000 recruit from Portsmouth, from all accounts, looked good during the first half, but Jefferies felt he had to push for goals and brought on an extra forward, Gary Wales.
Simpson, however, accepted the decision saying: ''It was a tactical move to try to change things so I wasn't too disappointed.
''It was the manager's decision and I have to respect that.
I'm old enough, and wise enough, to know things like that will happen and I just have to keep working to get another chance.
''As a whole team, we've got to get back on track as soon as possible now.'' Hearts have an opportunity to do just that against Rangers at Ibrox tomorrow and Simpson stressed: ''Last night was a massive blow, but we have to forget that now and do something about it at Rangers.'' Sunday's victory at Tynecastle was Hibs' biggest on enemy soil since a famous 7-0 success almost 27 years ago.
However, it is Hearts who have held the upper hand overall throughout the twentieth century.
The teams have met 220 times and Hearts have won 95 to Hibs' 60, with 65 being drawn.
Sunday's derby was the most cosmopolitan of the century, with players from no fewer then 10 countries involved (Scotland, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Jamaica, Trinidad, Finland, Spain, and Yugoslavia) and an Icelandic goalkeeper on the Hibs bench.
Even so, Alan Gordon, who had spells with both clubs, believes the essence of the game is still the same as it was in 1973.
He scored two goals that day, but the topsy-turvy nature of these occasions is such that Hearts won the next game between the clubs 4-1.
''There were no foreign players involved in my day, although I could never understand a word of what John Brownlie was saying!'' he laughed.
''When we went to Tynecastle in 1973, we were the form team and we were confident of victory, even if we didn't expect to win by such a margin.'' Gordon scored twice that day against a Hearts team that included current manager Jim Jefferies and current Hibs coach Donald Park, who was in the dug-out on Sunday.
''When we played them the next time in the September of that year, it was the first Saturday that we didn't have a midweek game before it,'' Gordon recalled.
''We were involved in the Dryborough Cup, the League Cup, and in Europe and I think Eddie Turnbull overtrained us in the week up to the game.
''We couldn't raise a gallop and Hearts deserved their victory and some people at the time even said they could have scored seven that day.''
Taken from the Herald