Edinburgh Derby highlights deficiencies of capital clubs
In a season devoid of quality from the Scottish Premiership’s Edinburgh clubs, a moment of magic from a 17-year-old may have set the tone for the rest of the season for Hibs and Hearts. Grant Barnes looks deeper into the situation at both capital clubs.
“Sacked in the morning” was the cry from both sets of supporters throughout the game, and the atmosphere of a drab first half reflected the mood from two clubs struggling to get their season underway.
Two minutes into the second half, the game exploded into life. An incredible effort from Stevie Mallan 30 yards from goal dipped and swerved past the despairing Joel Pereira, and set Easter Road alight in the ‘P45 Derby.’
As the curtain looked set to draw on Craig Levein’s long Hearts career, he was handed a lifeline when Uche Ikpeazu stabbed home after some scrappy play in true Edinburgh Derby fashion.
Aaron Hickey’s deflected effort five minutes from time revived Hearts and Levein’s season. Paul Heckingbottom was a dejected man as he walked down the touchline straight after the final whistle.
Hibs have good a good record in derbies in recent years, particularly at Easter Road, however they were a shadow of those teams yesterday. There was a small protest outside the West Stand after the game, and the pressure truly is piling on the former Barnsley boss.
There have been issues with the recruitment for the summer window, with additions such as Joe Newell and Adam Jackson struggling to keep their place in the side. The club have strugged to replace Stephane Omeonga and Mark Milligan, with Josh Vela and Melker Hallberg both struggling to make any real kind of impact, placing a huge workload on the talismanic Scott Allan.
Then there is the small matter of the $350,000 striker that’s yet to start a league game. Christian Doidge is yet to score in the league for Hibs after his summer move, and with Florian Kamberi only scoring once, they have serious issues upfront. Kamberi’s poor form and Doidge’s lack of involvement raises some real questions over the recruitment of the last few months.
Trying to properly utilise players like Hallberg, Allan and Kamberi will be crucial if Heckingbottom is to survive the next few games.
Across the capital, it’s not made for much better reading. The returns of Jamie Walker and Steven Naismith have been marred by injury, with the latter integral to the success of this Hearts side. Hearts look a far better side with Naismith in it, and his fitness will be integral to Levein’s success.
There are similar problems in the middle of the park, with Glenn Whelan and Loic Damour battling hard, but struggling to link up with the more advanced Hearts players. Sean Clare’s Hearts career has never really taken off in the way that was once hoped, and Ikpeazu’s goals have dried up, however his recent form has been promising.
Ryotaro Meshino was one of the more positive players on the park yesterday, and if Hearts can utilise him as the link between the midfield and the battering ram that is Ikpeazu, the goals may start coming.
Christophe Berra has been a stalwart for Hearts in his two spells for the club, however recently he has struggled to find his place. Craig Halkett’s attacking exploits have taken the plaudits however this has left Berra exposed at times, and with John Souttar another name on the injury list, the pair will need to find a better balance. Adding Michael Smith to a back three did seem to steady the ship somewhat.
The quality of yesterday’s game will do little to help either manager get the humps off their backs bar a couple of good individual performances. After receiving Ann Budge’s backing last week, the result will do the world of good for Levein and buy him some precious time to get Hearts climbing up the table.
For Heckingbottom, it’s a far bleaker picture. The atmosphere at Easter Road turned extremely poisonous near the end of the game, and it seems he has truly lost the fans backing. With a tough run of games starting with Kilmarnock on Wednesday and Celtic on Saturday, it seems an insurmountable task for the Englishman to keep his job.
The next couple of weeks will paint a clearer picture for both Levein’s and Heckingbottom’s futures. The pressure will remain on both managers, and if things don’t take a sharp improvement, both clubs could see themselves fighting a battle at the wrong end of the table.