THE immutable truth of derbies is that they come with a theme.
The most persistent is the one that dictates that a period of domination by one side is transient and the baton is handed to the erstwhile second best.
Hibernian, victims of consistent beatings by Hearts in recent times including a humiliation in the William Hill Scottish Cup final last year, played first foot at Tynecastle last night in an attempt to frank a recent cup win with a victory that would take them nine points ahead of a Hearts side mired in debt and dogged by a transfer embargo.
Loading article content
The result, however, was no baton was passed instead Hearts and Hibs beat each other over the head with it. This was a bruising, frantic encounter where the chances came late, where no goals where scored but where the extraordinary primal atmosphere thrived inside a Tynecastle packed with 17,000 supporters, even though its charms might have been lost on a wider audience.
This was a battle for 90 minutes plus added time. With a roar that shook the venerable old stadium, the match kicked off late. The players tried to make up for lost time by running faster. This was a contest that started at a sprint and increased its pace.
The only port of calm in this swirling storm was the slight figure of Mehdi Taouil who tried to prompt Hearts with measured passes out wide. This was as thankless a task as attempting to bring a measure of etiquette to the chimpanzees' tea party. It was telling that the midfielder, shorter than a double measure, ended the first half conceding a foul in an aerial battle.
The general mayhem was such that the first occasion a goalkeeper was troubled was when Ben Williams failed to collect a high punt by Ryan Stevenson but smuggled the ball away from the predatory attentions of John Sutton.
Hibs, for whom Ryan McGivern was recalled to replace Lewis Stevenson, also showed they were not adverse to indulging in the crude when Eoin Doyle felled Jamie MacDonald as the Hearts goalkeeper fielded a high ball.
Hearts, missing Andy Webster who has flu, paired Dylan McGowan with Marius Zaliukas at the centre of defence and their first crisis occurred after 24 minutes. Doyle found room on the right but Paul Cairney could only place the ball in MacDonald's arms with a politeness that belied the highly partisan nature of the contest.
The best chance of the first period, though, fell to Hearts. A Darren Barr long ball appeared to fall to Scott Robinson in the box but he was involved in a heavy collision with James McPake, prompting persuasive penalty claims, and the ball ran to Andrew Driver, who screwed the ball wide of the far post. The winger compounded this miss by racing clear on the right and then engineering a cross that sailed behind his onrushing team-mates.
The only other moments of note in a first half that raced by at a speed that would have disgraced a grand prix were two long-range efforts from Sutton and Driver that both drifted over the bar.
The second half began with the announcement that Ryan McGowan, the Hearts full-back was listening to the match as he negotiates to join Shandong Luneng Taishan. He should have been celebrating a goal by his brother two minutes after the restart. Taouil's shot was spilled by Williams and Dylan McGowan tried to force the ball home from six yards, only for the Hibs goalkeeper to redeem himself with a block before the ball ran to Stevenson, who knocked the ball past from the closest of ranges.
Hibs responded by creating a chance with, whisper it, a piece of subtlety. Cairney's pass freed Doyle who advanced but lashed the ball over. This prompted Hearts into even more frantic efforts, if that can believed. A concerted effort to force the ball into the net in a move from the NFL playbook ended in a corner but Driver was unlucky when he was freed on the left and his fine cross only found the head of McGivern, who cleared.
The play, inevitably, switched to the other end and the busy but hardly clinical Doyle could not quite latch on to a flick by Leigh Griffiths before he then headed over Tim Clancy's long throw.
As the match headed towards the finish like a lit fuse heading towards a barrel of gunpowder, the tension increased even if the quality did not. A Hibs fan appeared to be involved in a dispute with a ball boy, smoke from flares drifted in the Gorgie air and the fans kept the noise levels similar to that at Heathrow during the holidays.
On the pitch, both teams then found enough energy to create their best chances. The first two came from substitutes with Jason Holt racing clear only to be denied by a McGivern clearance and David Wotherspoon glancing over. Then Doyle forced MacDonald into a desperate save and Sutton hit the bar from a Jamie Walker corner.
But a goal was beyond both teams. It was a night when bodies crashed into tackles to a soundtrack of baying fans. It was all sound and fury, however, and it ultimately signalled nothing-nothing.