Analysis: Heart of Midlothian keep a clean sheet. Lawrence Shankland scores. Three points and up the road.


Such is the nature of the fixture the only aspect anyone ever cares about is the result. When it comes to derbies, just win. No matter what. It's as simple as that. It's a strategy Hearts have employed for the majority of their 150-year history.

There was, of course, more to the victory over Hibs at Easter Road.

It was far from a vintage Hearts performance. On the one hand, it demonstrated the steel of Steven Naismith's side. There were impressive individual performances, while the head coach pointed out "a great trait to have as a team" is finding a way to win. On the other hand, Hearts, as a collective, lacked attacking quality. Chance creation was at a premium, decision-making was poor and it required Shankland to summon something out of scraps before displaying his supreme finishing prowess.

So, how did the game at Easter Road develop and evolve before Shankland said 'enough is enough' and popped one in the top bin?

The left-hand side

For both Hearts and Hibs, the first half involved trying to exploit their opponents down their left.

In the second minute, Hearts demonstrated their intention. Shankland pulled wide. With the ball at his feet on the halfway line, he had Calem Nieuwenhof and Alan Forrest making runs beyond him towards the left-hand side.

Thirty seconds later Cochrane got the ball on the halfway line. He only had one thing on his mind. Clip a ball in behind Lewis Miller, Hibs' right-back. Forrest was once again on his bike. Rocky Bushiri had to come across and clear for a throw-in. It was the throw-in that resulted in the penalty Shankand would miss.

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Before John Beaton could have the chance to pause the game and go to the VAR monitor for Bushiri's handball, Hibs showed their intention. Hearts were intent on stopping David Marshall from playing short, mainly to Joe Newell. Aidan Denholm pushed high up on the Hibs midfielder. It meant Jordan Obita was free to collect a pass. From the goal kick after Shankland's penalty miss, the Hibs goalkeeper clipped another pass out wide to Obita ensuring the home side bypassed the Hearts press.

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Both of these themes continued throughout the first half. 

In the 11th minute, Cochrane's aggression won the ball. When it rolled to Shankland, Forrest had one thing on his mind: dart down the left-hand side. It was the team's best opening from open play in the first half. That was also the space Shankland looked to exploit when Denholm intercepted a pass from Will Fish with Nieuwenhof, Denholm and Forrest all getting up in support.

Forrest's running off the ball was excellent allowing him to take up dangerous positions. The best move of the first-half saw Beni Baningime suck in two Hibs players, pass to Rowles who popped it to Shankland. The striker, dropping deep, lifted a first-time ball into Forrest who took advantage of Lewis Miller going wandering.

Within that, Nieuwenhof played an important role. The Aussie would often move to a wide position. His presence would entice Miller to close him down, leaving that space behind for Forrest to exploit. That could be seen after the half-hour mark when Banimgime drifted away from three Hibs players, passed it into Nieuwenhof who was the widest player on the left and a pass down the left.

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On the opposite side of the pitch is where Hibs got most of their joy and part of the reason why Naismith decided to tweak the system at half-time. Between them, Obita and Tavares had six crosses in the first-half as they doubled up on Atkinson. With Denholm focused infield, the Aussie was often left two one-on-one and, to be fair, coped relatively well.

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But it was that area that led to Hibs' penalty. Denholm pushed very high on Newell with Bushiri passing left to Obita. Forrest has to make up a lot of ground to get to the left-back and as Obita played a one-two with Tavares who had been followed infield by Atkinson, Forrest stopped tracking him, allowing him the space to get a cross in before Atkinson could shut it down.

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On the half-hour mark, Hearts allowed Newell to get the ball. Again, it went to Bushiri and up the flank to Obita in space. As was the story of the match, the pass to Tavares was poor and drifted out of play.

Due to Hearts' numerical advantage in the middle of the pitch, they very rarely tried to play through Dylan Levitt. Only once did he get space to play a probing pass into the attacking third but it was an attack snuffed out by the excellent Kye Rowles toward the end of the half.

The change

"Hibs came out and they changed the way they have been playing recently by pinning our back five," Naismith said after the match. "We didn't put enough pressure on the wide areas, that's why we changed it at half-time."

What the change meant defensively was Atkinson now had the support of Forrest on the right-hand side. Obita rarely ventured into the Hearts half to offer an overlapping run to Tavares. The last contribution of the winger before his withdrawal saw him help Atkinson when Jair got the ball in the final third. The tables had turned from 2v1 against to 2v1 in Hearts' favour.

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A negative impact of the change in shape is that there wasn't the same support and runs behind Shankland from central areas. Those that Forrest provided in the first half. It was Shankland who had to do that instead. Not necessarily his game. Nieuwenhof tried to get up and support but, again, lacked the burst of pace. As for the wide areas, Hearts never got the pressure they would have liked with Barrie McKay on one side and Forrest, then Kenneth Vargas, on the other with support from the full-backs. The time they did, Stephen Kingsley flashed a brilliant cross across the inside of the Hibs six-yard box.

Cochrane and Baningime

"I think in the past we have been criticised about players playing in certain positions," Naismith said. "An example is Alex Cochrane. We played him in centre mid in Europe and got slaughtered for it. He showed why we trust him in there. He was really good."

Cochrane was indeed Hearts' best player after the interval, alongside Baningime. The English pair helped keep the control in Hearts' favour. While chances were at a premium, the visitors were the more composed side in an encounter that saw possession change hands often. Hearts, helped by Cochrane and Baningime, had longer spells of possession without that penetrating quality. Hibs' pressure map shows the extent to which the game was played in the middle of the pitch with Hearts in possession. However, the home side had 10 players play a pass into the box compared to the visitors' five.

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Unsurprisingly the team's best moments arrived when the pair combined in midfield. Just after half-time, Baningime survived pressure once more. The ball was worked to Cochrane who bounced one into his team-mate. The former Everton midfielder drove forward with purpose and slid a pass through to Shankland. Baningime was a lot more direct with his play and didn't let a misplaced early pass impact him.

In the 79th minute, Cochrane got the ball, drove forward, and played into Shankland who dropped it back to Baningime. He ventured forward once more but his attempted through ball was cut out. The frustration was those moments were too few as a collective.

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Just as important was their work off the ball. Cochrane brought his aggression and his desire to engage opponents into the midfield, while Baningime diligently went about his business without the ball. No player on the pitch made more than his six tackles and interceptions combined.

Hibs' best opportunities came from Hearts errors, rather than an ability to play through a well-organised outfit. An offshoot of Forrest moving wide was the home side's centre-backs getting easy possession. But the visitors were more than comfortable with Bushiri being on the ball.

The threat came from the pace of Martin Boyle, Tavares and Elie Youan. They were only able to counter due to slack passing from Hearts. The most dangerous moment was when Kingsley gave up possession and Youan eventually set up Dylan Vente. Another moment was when Atkinson did well to progress play down the right-hand side with some neat play but then decision-making was lacking with Hibs countering through Tavares.

For 90 or so minutes it was the story of the match. Hearts had control but lacked incision, while both sides gave up possession far too cheaply. It was a game that was heading towards and deserving of a 0-0.

Enter Lawrence Shankland.

The biggest bit of quality - Zander Clark's penalty save aside - won the match. He turned a long ball and a chance which had an xG of 0.06 into a stunning finish and three points.

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