THIS was not the Edinburgh derby it was supposed to be.
Hearts are up to their nostrils in quicksand and Hibernian came to place a boot on their heads and push them beneath the surface. Instead, and to the utter delight of a rocking and rolling Tynecastle, the doomed club held out a hand, grabbed Hibs by the ankle and would not let go.
Everyone accepts that Edinburgh is about to lose one of its clubs from the SPFL Premiership, but could it lose both? "Down with the Jambos" sang the taunting home stands, reconciled to Hearts being relegated, and salivating at the idea of dragging Hibs with them.
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Could Hibs go too? It remains unlikely given that it would mean St Mirren, Partick Thistle, Ross County and Kilmarnock all picking up points. But they are in freefall and only six points above the play-off place. It is all about momentum and confidence in these circumstances, and Hibs have neither. They have now won once in 12 league games and taken only 10 points from their last available 39. Had Hibs won this Hearts' relegation would have been confirmed. The away fans came to gloat and to party. Their team, their club, let them down for the umpteenth time. They are a profoundly mediocre side and they did not match the sheer desire shown by their equally limited city rivals.
Dale Carrick scored early for Hearts and Hibs huffed and puffed their way through plenty of lumpen pressure, especially in the second half. Yes, it is beyond dispute that they suffered a grave injustice when Jordan Forster's late header was disallowed for offside when he was clearly on. The decision was a shocker. But they then unravelled again when Alan Maybury picked up a second booking and was sent off. Hearts broke upfield and Billy King rounded Ben Williams to slot home a tidy second in stoppage time. Hibs thought they would get something back yesterday for the scarring of that 5-1 cup final, maybe a day of their own to cherish. Hearts simply refused to let them have the satisfaction.
Hearts played as if they had been given pre-match shots of testosterone. They have lost the war this season but this was not a battle they were prepared to surrender. With guts and strength they simply imposed their will on Hibs, winning 50-50s, snapping into tackles and pressing and harassing the men in green. Ryan Stevenson and Jamie Hamill were especially robust. Jason Holt did his bit to worry Hibs into overhit passes and mistakes.
At the back, Danny Wilson and Dylan McGowan generally took care of business. Hearts scored after six minutes - the goal simple, well executed and badly defended. Callum Paterson whipped over a long cross from the right and Stevenson leapt to expertly connect with a downward header for Carrick. The Hibs back four was pulled out of shape and too slow to react. Carrick controlled the ball beautifully and hooked an emphatic finish past Williams.
Hibs were undone by their lack of quality. They hoofed the ball out from defence. Their midfielders could not win their individual battles or give their forwards enough ammunition. Passes did not find their men. When their front pair, Danny Handling and James Collins, got an occasional sniff of goal their finishing was not good enough. It took them 40 minutes to work their first really good opening from a Duncan Watmore run down the right and when he cut the ball into the middle Collins' effort was woeful. Hibs rarely looked capable of hurting Hearts all afternoon, even when enjoying a spell of pressure in the first half and far more after the interval. When Ryan McGivern flicked his head to bullet a header towards goal from a Sam Stanton corner they did frighten goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, but the attempt flashed over the bar.
The disallowed Forster goal, meanwhile, was rank injustice; McGowan was clearly playing him onside when he converted Lewis Stevenson's cross. Assistant referee Alasdair Ross inexplicably raised his flag and Hibs were fully justified in their vociferous protests. There were no such appeals when Maybury got his marching orders for hauling down King after being outpaced.
Hearts scrapped and fought and battled for everything, even when Hibs put them on the back foot in the second half. Sam Nicholson almost got a second for them and it took a terrific diving save by Williams to push his shot away for a corner. Then, two minutes into stoppage time, Hibs were opened up again. Stevenson played in King to round the goalkeeper and slip a low finish into the open goal.
"Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio" the fans sang at one another with a few minutes left: Hearts because they saw some Hibs lads leaving early, Hibs in a defiant reminder that Hearts still have no hope of saving themselves. But doomed, condemned Hearts were jubilant. Green balloons floated around the Hibs goal having been released by supporters who were desperate to apply the coup de grace. When Williams began bursting them he stamped on three then missed a fourth one entirely: cue laughter and derision. It was a tiny moment which summed up Hibs' day. "Let's get this party started," said Tynecastle's public address announcer at full time.
Hearts are still on death row. Defeat will mean relegation, again, if they lose at home to Aberdeen on Wednesday. But if this amounted to a last meal, they gorged themselves on a feast.