FOR weeks the speculation had grown. First it was “What if Hearts can be relegated in that game against Hibs at the end of March?” Then it was “Looks like it will be that game.” Then it was on.
And once it was confirmed that the wrong result could send Hearts down, the speculation took on a new tone. How nervous would Gary Locke’s side be? How jittery a defence that has conceded more goals than any other in the Premiership?
Would we see a whole team stricken with nerves? Would it be one of those car-crash-in-slow-motion matches that relegation deciders so often are?
Once the match started, we soon got our answer. It came from Dale Carrick six minutes into the game, in the shape of the opening goal.
Hearts enjoyed the odd lucky break after that, most notably when Jordon Forster was ruled offside after heading the ball home from a clearly onside position. But there was no denying that their victory was deserved, and there was no mistaking the character they showed to achieve it.
Mind you, according to the goalscorer himself there was never any doubt about that. Carrick explained that manager Locke had drilled the correct attitude into the home squad all week, and that in their own minds the outcome of the derby was never in doubt.
“We got built up by the gaffer: ‘This is a game that we need to win’,” the 20-year-old striker said. “‘We need to do it’. And we did it right.
“It was ‘Go out and play. Work your socks off and we’ll get the result that we need’. And we got the right result.
“We knew that we were going to win, because it was against Hibs and we weren’t going to get relegated off of them. The so-called party. We wanted to end their party and start our party to stop them.”
Asked if his early goal had changed much about his team’s approach to the match, Carrick insisted that they had been in the correct frame of mind all along. “We were in the right mood anyway, because it’s a derby. You always go into the derby thinking ‘Today we’re going to have it’. It was a great start – I didn’t realise that we’d scored that early on. I thought it was 12 or 15 minutes in, then I got told it was six minutes into the game.
“I was happy with that. It just all happened so quickly that I didn’t know what to do for the celebration.
“I think [the key to winning] was communication between us. We were always fighting for each other and going that extra yard. It just seemed to work and it was great.
“It’s always been a thing, when I was with the under-12s at Hearts, to one day be in the first team and score against Hibs. It’s a dream come true, basically. It was great – and at the Hibs end too.”
It was more of a nightmare, however, for the half of Carrick’s family that supports Hibs, not to mention his friends of a green-and-white persuasion. “I’ve got family and friends in that end,” he continued. “My uncles, cousins and great-grandparents are Hibs supporters. We’ve got a bit of both – a Hearts side and a Hibs side in the family, so we have good banter.
“They just always tell me don’t score against Hibs. So I thought I might as well do it.
“I probably won’t see them for a couple of weeks. But I’ll phone them in maybe a couple of hours and see how they’re doing.”
There is another derby to go this season, then after that who knows when the next one will be? With Hearts doomed to relegation, the only guarantee that the fixture will take place next season is if Hibs go down to the Championship with them via the play-offs.
“There’s always a possibility,” Carrick added when asked if he thought that could happen. “I would say so. It’s great having the derby, so we might as well have the derbies down there.”