Hearts 4 - 1 Hibernian

Hartley 26, 43 PEN, Skacel 40, Elliot 50

O'Connor 57

GRAHAM RIX has not exactly overdosed on compliments since becoming Hearts manager, so how sweet must it have been for him to savour a performance so convincing it was as though his predecessor was still in charge. That is about as high as the praise can get for Hearts, even if Rix - whose first Edinburgh derby this was - would doubtless prefer to be judged by a measurement which did not hark back to George Burley.

Hibs were outclassed 4-0 here when Burley was in charge at the start of the season and yesterday felt like deja vu. SPL champions? The jury is out again after two points were clawed back on Celtic yesterday to leave Hearts eight behind. But champions of Edinburgh? No contest.

Hearts took a hold on the derby and crushed the spirit out of their city rivals. A match which had simmered with bad feeling was so stripped of its competitiveness by the home side's 3-0 half-time lead that there were no bookings handed out after the interval. Having been reduced to ten men by Gary Smith's 44th minute red card for elbowing Saulius Mikoliunas, Hibs were too fearful to be angry. There could hardly have been a soul in the ground who did not contemplate the prospect of repeat of that landmark Edinburgh derby scoreline, 7-0. With this Hibs defence, absolutely anything is possible.

Hibs were spared that ultimate humiliation but Hearts were generally merciless in exploiting the poor defending which has undermined the efforts of Tony Mowbray's side, especially during a miserable current run of only two wins in eight league games. Even a draw for Rangers at Inverness today will be enough for the defending champions to climb above the Easter Road side into third place.

Mowbray will regard that as a rectifiable irrelevance compared to the dramatic improvements to be made at the back if his team is to survive Saturday's Tennent's Scottish Cup tie against Rangers at Ibrox. A win here would have put them just three points behind Hearts, but defeat meant the gap has yawned to nine. As Hibs' season threatens to splutter and fade, Hearts were back to their persuasive best although to win the championship they will need Celtic, and probably Rangers as well, to be as generous as their neighbours were yesterday.

Hearts do not need any confirmation of Tynecastle's inspirational power and while the club contemplates playing European ties at Murrayfield next season, nowhere will reproduce the throbbing energy of their home. They fed off the crowd's electricity and if their announcer was joking about a "Demolition Derby II" DVD being in the club shop by tomorrow, he was on the nail when he referred to the supporters being Hearts' 12th man in the first half. If Edinburgh derbies were played behind closed doors there might be some composure and relaxation among the players, but it would not be nearly so much fun.

Tynecastle bubbled with all the local rivalries and prejudices of a true derby. Derek Riordan and Scott Brown got it in the neck from the Hearts fans, although neither made it beyond halftime, Brown because of an injury after a fierce Julian Brellier tackle. Hibs' supporters tried their best to spoil a minute's applause - no easy task - by turning their backs on the celebration of Wallace Mercer's life. The Hibs players choose not to applaud, but claimed that they were paying their own form of tribute to the former Hearts chairman. Mercer would have loved the idea that he could still noise them up.

There was no mystery behind Hearts' commanding win. While Hibs had been unable to capitalise on three early opportunities - all of which were on target but saved by Craig Gordon - the finishing of Paul Hartley and Rudi Skacel was unforgiving. First the Czech's cutback was rewarded by Hartley's near post execution after a run which demonstrated the Scotland international's awareness.

Skacel's own finish for the second goal, his 16th of the season, was even more impressive as he showed lovely technique to deliver a controlled left foot volley past Simon Brown after Hartley's sweeping cross from a freekick broke to him at the edge of the penalty area.

The concession of a third goal within 17 first half minutes demonstrated the extent of Hibs' implosion. Steven Whittaker and Gary Caldwell went for the same ball and neither won it, allowing Skacel to race on to it in the box before being bundled down by the backtracking Caldwell for a penalty. Hartley flashed it high and hard to the top corner.

The only Hearts blemish on this explosive phase of the match was the unconvincing finish by Calum Elliot, missing when through on Brown, but by the time he rectified that by scoring Hearts' fourth goal just five minutes into the second half, Hibs' disarray had been exacerbated by a deserved red card for Smith for catching Mikoliunas in the face with his elbow a moment after the ball had been released. Whittaker's inability to deal with Skacel allowed the Czech to brush him aside and cross low for Elliot to ram a low shot in at the near post for 4-0.

Hibs had no inkling they were on for a humiliation when they were, in derby terms, smooth and patient in the construction of early moves which forced Gordon into saves to deny two Garry O'Connor headers and, in particular, a Riordan volley heading for the top corner.

Hearts playing with only one forward, Elliot, in a Tynecastle derby seemed to be a measure of their respect for Hibs and initially it had seemed damaging to their own creativity as Skacel and Hartley became bogged down in a narrow congestion of midfielders. Hibs' defending was so vulnerable, though, that as soon as Hearts' penetrated them once down the wings, Tynecastle sensed it would witness a convincing kill. Lee Johnson from Yeovil was as small and hard as a marble on his debut in central midfield.

Those Hibs supporters who remained after the fourth had the paltry consolation of a goal when O'Connor's low shot found the corner of the net. A crumb after another Hearts feast.


Fair result? No question. Hearts won it in 17 first half minutes, rocketing the game from goalless to 3-0. It was damage limitation for Hibs from then on.

Entertainment value? Hearts had such an emphatic lead by halftime that the edge actually went out of the game in the second half. Over the piece it was another vibrant, gripping derby.

Talking point: Most Hibs supporters turned their back on the pitch during the minute's applause for Wallace Mercer, and the Hibs players chose to make some sort of point too by standing in the centre circle with their arms linked but not applauding.

Man of the match: Despite the persuasive claims for Paul Hartley, Rudi Skacel was the talisman. He scored one and had a hand in Hearts' other three.

Graham Rix: "It took us a while to settle. But we worked really hard, played some great football and scored some good goals."

Tony Mowbray: "It's not just the defence that's to blame, it's the whole team. You have to play off the front a bit more when you play Hearts at Tynecastle."


Gordon Neilson Webster Berra Fyssas Mikoliunas Johnson Brellier Hartley Skacel Elliot

Subs: Cesnauskis for Mikoliunias 45, Pospisil for Elliot 69, McAllister for Johnson 69.

Not used: Banks, Wallace, Tall, Mole.

Booked: Brellier 5.


Si Brown Whittaker Caldwell Smith Murphy Sc Brown Stewart Thomson Sproule Riordan O'Connor

Subs: Konde for Brown 39, Fletcher for Riordan 45, Killen for O'Connor 79.

Not used: Marshall, Hogg, McCluskey, Morrow.

Booked: Murphy 12.

Referee: M McCurry.

Attendance: 17,371.