Heart of Midlothian supporters had to be patient on Wednesday night. But boy, it would be worth the wait.

For the longest time at Easter Road, it looked as though the men in maroon would be making the short journey home with only a solitary point to show for their exertions, or perhaps none at all. Hearts never fully clicked into gear against Hibs, and some poor decision-making in the final third caused the chances to dry up. As time wore on, it was Nick Montgomery’s side who had the momentum and were posing some awkward questions of their opponents.

And then, in the 93rd minute, it happened. And it came out of absolutely nothing. Zander Clark launched a long ball forward, more out of hope than expectation, towards the head of Lawrence Shankland. The Hearts captain had been having an uncharacteristically underwhelming display up until that point where he had struggled to make his presence felt, but the entire stadium was about to be served a reminder of the talisman’s quality. After winning his initial duel with Rocky Bushiri, the 28-year-old weaved his way past Will Fish before curling a delightful finish into the top corner. Cue bedlam in the way end. Cue unbridled ecstasy. Cue delirious derby celebrations.

READ MORE: Hearts derby win analysis: Supreme Shankland, Clark comes up big, huge win in 3rd

The 4,000-or-so away supporters who were lucky enough to be in attendance won’t forget that moment anytime soon, and nor should they. Victories over your rivals are always sweet; doubly so when they are achieved on the road. Add in the smash-and-grab nature of the win, and you have all the ingredients for the perfect evening in Leith.

The win was sizable in more ways than one. It consolidated Hearts’ position in third, maintaining the two-point lead over Kilmarnock in fourth, with Derek McInnes’ side having played an additional game. Hearts’ two most likely rivals for third place, Hibs and Aberdeen, are now eight and 13 points respectively off the pace (although the Dons do have three games in hand). It was a third successive victory for Naismith’s side – and a third consecutive clean sheet – and the Gorgie outfit have now won seven of their last nine league outings.

Most importantly of all, though, it was Naismith’s first win in the Edinburgh derby as a manager. Regularly getting the better of Hibs is a fundamental requirement for those who occupy the hot seat at Tynecastle Park, and it was an area where Naismith had previously fallen short. He failed to win any of his first three encounters with his Edinburgh rivals - albeit with context - but Wednesday night’s win showed that he is capable of triumphing when it matters most.

There will always be those who are not convinced by Naismith. No manager of any football club enjoys universal support from the stands, after all. But the pool of Hearts fans who remain unconvinced by the head coach continues to dwindle. These days, there isn’t all that much to be upset about.

The team’s progression has been obvious. Last term, Hearts couldn’t buy a win on the road; this season, they have won more away games (six) in the league than they have at home (four). They have also now won as many or more games away from home than in 21 of their last 29 top-flight campaigns. It's still December.

The previously leaky defence has become watertight in recent months, and last night’s win was Hearts’ 10th clean sheet of the league campaign, meaning the team have now avoided conceding in the majority of their fixtures – a huge improvement on the previous season, where Hearts recorded six shut-outs in 38 games.

This improvement at the back has served as the foundation of the team’s success, but there are other areas where the progress that has been made that are remarkable. Take set-pieces, for example. For long stretches of the season, Hearts failed to make the most of attacking dead-ball situations but have scored a fair few corners in recent weeks. At the other end, Naismith’s decision to bring every single player back for free kicks and corners drew a few grumbles from supporters. Yet here we are, precisely halfway through the league season, and Hearts have still to concede from a set-piece. The strategy is working.

It took Hearts a while to become a threat at attacking set-pieces, but this isn’t the only area of the team’s performances that has been a work in progress. At the start of the season, all too often Hearts were slow out of the traps and struggled to score in the first half. Facing low blocks, too, caused a fair few headaches. But just like set-pieces, the progress has been gradual and incremental. Now, neither can be said to be a deficiency in this team.

Things have been getting better on the park but as recently as a few weeks ago, there were still a couple of sizable hurdles to overcome. One was that Hearts hadn’t found a way to beat either half of the Old Firm, and those concerns were emphatically put to bed earlier this month as Naismith’s men secured a thoroughly impressive and well-earned 2-0 victory at Celtic Park. The only other major bone of contention was that Naismith had not guided Hearts to victory in the derby – thankfully, that unwanted record has now drawn to a close too.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith on Hearts change of shape, pleasing win, Clark, Shankland and McKay

It begs an obvious question for those who remain unconvinced by Naismith’s appointment: why? With the team in third, it can’t be because of Hearts’ performance over the season. With seven wins in nine, it can’t be down to form. The away record has improved dramatically. The defence is regularly proving to be unbreachable. Hearts have got far, far better at set-pieces at both ends. They are capable of beating the Old Firm. They can win in the derby. And with the emergence of Aidan Denholm, and Macaulay Tait’s debut at Celtic Park, Naismith hasn’t been shy about blooding youngsters either.

The reasons not to jump on board the Naismith hype train are dwindling by the day, and after tasting the sweetest of successes in the derby last night, a few more passengers will have surely hopped on.

It has taken Hearts a while to get fully up to speed under Naismith – but now it is full steam ahead.