Alan Stubbs praises improved Hibs after draw with Hearts

Hibernian players celebrating
Hibs took the lead against Hearts but were pegged back late in the game

Hibernian manager Alan Stubbs refused to criticise his players after their 1-1 draw with Hearts at Easter Road.

A spectacular late strike from Alim Ozturk cancelled out Dominique Malonga's first-half effort.

"It's disappointing to lose [a goal] so late on, especially when the team have been magnificent," said Stubbs.

"It would be easy for me to be very downbeat because of what's happened, but I thought my players were absolutely outstanding."

Hibs had been the more impressive team, and led the game after Malonga's first-half effort and when Callum Paterson was sent-off in the 79th minute, Hearts pressed until Ozturk struck from 40 yards to stun the home side.

Stubbs insists his players were underestimated against a Hearts side already being talked up as the automatic promotion candidates.

"We've played the so-called champions that everyone is calling them, and we've more than matched them," said Stubbs.

"I wanted them to have the courage to get on the ball, to make the right decisions, and I wanted them to not fear making decisions.

"Sometimes when you come into a big game like this, the fear of losing is greater than the fear of winning.

"I'm proud of them, and for a manager to stand after not getting what we deserved from the game against our biggest rivals is a big thing.

"It was a great advert for football. The players have risen to the challenge and the best way to describe it is that we're not as bad as some people are making out."

Ozturk's sublime strike in the second minute of stoppage time was a bolt out of the blue for a Hibs side who seemed to have settled on a 1-0 victory.

And while Stubbs was happy to acknowledge the quality of the equaliser, he preferred to focus on the performance of his players.

"He could hit a thousand, and he wouldn't score one of them again," added the Englishman.

Hibernian players
Hibs remain 14 points behind Championship leaders Hearts

"You could put the best keeper in the world in goal and the way the ball moved and dipped at the last minute, I don't think any of them would have saved it.

"It's one of them freak strikes that's gone in, unfortunately, but I want to talk about my players' performances rather than what happened at the end of the game."