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6 of 006 -----L SPL H

Tame derby stalemate offers little benefit to either side

Published Date: 09 November 2009
By Stuart Bathgate
HEARTS needed the point more, and Hibernian were marginally happier to have settled for one, but the only real beneficiaries of this first Edinburgh derby of the season were Rangers, who are now back in second place, above Hibs, as a result.
John Hughes' prediction that both teams would try to play football was proven correct, to the surprise of those of us who have too often seen the fixture descend into a fierce physical battle, but trying and achieving are different things.

There were few memorable moments from either side, both goalkeepers had quiet afternoons, and the whole affair ended up as a tame stalemate.

In the context of the clubs' previous outings, Hibs were the more disappointing team.

In the first-half they showed almost nothing of the form which had taken them to the upper reaches of the league, and although they were better after the break, they were still well below their best.

Hughes had had to recast his defence after Sol Bamba was ruled out by a knee strain suffered at training on Friday, but the back four could have passed for a unit which had been playing together all season.

Hibs' problem was further forward: Liam Miller and Kevin McBride had been under the weather during the week and were less influential than they have been of late, while Abdessalam Benjelloun was too easily muscled out of the game and Anthony Stokes was little more than a spectator.

Derek Riordan, who had been unable to start because of a foot injury, enlivened his team when he came on ten minutes into the second half. But on the whole he was well policed by Jason Thomson, the Hearts right-back who had been drafted in for his namesake Craig because of his greater defensive solidity.

In other instances, too, Hearts deserve credit for Hibs' underperformance.

In the middle of the park Michael Stewart got the better of Miller for much of the game while Ian Black had one of his liveliest outings, and further back Jose Goncalves was as surefooted in defence as any of his Hibs counterparts.

The problem, predictably for a team which has yet to get its SPL goals tally into double figures, was up front. Christian Nade held the ball up reasonably well in his role as target man, but yet again Hearts were unable to turn pressure into clear-cut openings. That will change to an extent if and when Andrew Driver regains his best form, but at present the Tynecastle team are remarkably uninventive.

Csaba Laszlo gave another airing to his claim that Hearts are "World Cup winners at creating chances" yet the assertion sounded no more credible after this game than it did when he first aired it at Riccarton two days earlier.

Hearts did have the possession and position from which they could have created chances, including several free-kicks in dangerous areas and a fair number of corners and long throw-ins, but they lacked both imagination and incision.

Their best moment of a first-half in which they steadily gained the upper hand fell to Stewart after an interchange of passes with Nade and Black, but the captain's shot went wide.

Later on in the half, a shot by Black was deflected over the bar, and then Nade was too high with a header, while at the other end Hibs' best opening came when Stokes slid in to meet a knockdown from Colin Nish.

That effort was comfortably saved by Janos Balogh, but after the break the goalkeeper was called into action more frequently.

His most memorable save came at the end of the most enterprising move of the match, when David Wotherspoon raced upfield and, on the run, unleashed a shot which Nish redirected with a glancing header.

Balogh did exceptionally well to turn the effort on to his left-hand post, then collected the loose ball before the on-rushing Nish could capitalise on the rebound.

Riordan troubled the goalkeeper a couple of times later on, but for a team who have prided themselves on their attacking line-up Hibs otherwise had little to offer.

Hearts, conversely, were at least a threat at both ends of the second-half. They had begun it at a notably increased tempo, with Driver having a run then a shot which Graham Stack collected in comfort, and they looked dangerous on occasion later on when Gary Glen came off the bench.

In the dying minutes, Stack could not gather a shot from Glen cleanly, and Jamie Mole, on for Nade, went down in the box as he pursued the loose ball alongside Hibs captain Chris Hogg.

The home support appealed for a penalty, but referee Steve Conroy declined to give the spot-kick.

Mole looked to have gone to ground as a result of his own attempt to jump over Stack rather than because of any foul contact by a Hibs player, and he later told team-mates he had not thought it was a penalty.

A goal at that stage of the game would surely have given Hearts three points rather than one, and could have led many of their supporters to hope that the result would kick-start their season. But that hope was also expressed after the Co-operative Insurance Cup win over Celtic, then dashed days later by defeat at Motherwell, and Hearts' present problems appear too deep-rooted to be eradicated any time in the very near future.

As for Hibs, it will be interesting in the coming weeks to see how they respond to their performance here.

Hughes has continually cautioned that they are only at the embryonic stages of their development as a team, and it is almost certainly too early for them to mount a sustained challenge to the Old Firm.

But they have so far done more than any other club to enliven a drab season, and neutrals as well as their own supporters will hope they can swiftly regain the panache which was conspicuous by its absence here.


Michael Stewart (Hearts)

The midfielder led by example for the home side with a bustling performance, ensuring Liam Miller and Kevin McBride got little time to settle on the ball. Channelling his energy well, he played tirelessly throughout the game.

Taken from the Scotsman

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