Steven Naismith’s first game as the interim Hearts manager resulted in defeat, but Kevin Nisbet’s second-half goal snapped the hosts’ nine-game losing streak in the historic match.
In actuality, Hibs’ victory margin could have, and likely should have, been greater, but the three points were more important than anything else as they edged closer to a top-six finish. Hearts are still five points behind Aberdeen in third place while Lee Johnson’s team is in sixth place, four points ahead of Livingston in seventh.
Hibs got a strong start, flying into challenges and dominating the midfield duel. CJ Egan-Riley and Jake Doyle-Hayes received yellow cards due to their zeal, but it just heightened the tension and made Hearts appear overmatched at times.
Despite this week’s management change, the visitors’ lack of cohesion that has marked their recent downturn maintained as they lost Michael Smith to injury early in the game.
Elie Youan was denied from close range by Zander Clark, who displayed excellent positioning and reactions on the one occasion Hibs did have a good view of the Hearts goal. Hearts did have their chances, helped by Naismith, who kicked every ball from his technical area, but David Marshall comfortably thwarted the efforts of Lawrence Shankland and Andy Halliday.
Following the interval, Hibs kept pressing the unsteady Hearts defense, but Kye Rowles made a crucial stop to deny Doyle-Hayes, and Youan could only shoot straight at Clark after Toby Sibbick botched his clearance.
Both Nisbet and Chris Cadden missed their shots as Lee Johnson’s team’s opportunities continued to come and go. When 66 minutes had passed, the strain finally became apparent, dispelling your initial concerns that their wastefulness would come back to punish them.
To the joy of the home crowd, Nisbet was on hand to volley into the top of the net after Paul Hanlon headed down a corner from Doyle-Hayes.
Hibs had multiple opportunities to end the game on the break after the goal made Hearts abandon prudence. They failed to do so, though, and as the minutes passed, the situation grew tense and contentious.
The Tynecastle club’s worst losing streak since the 2007–08 season, the full-time whistle was hailed by euphoric celebrations from both home players and fans, while the visitors’ players were dejected.
Next Saturday at 15:30, Hibs will play St. Johnstone in Perth; at 12:30 on that same day, Hearts will host Ross County.