GARY Locke says he wants to see Hibs escape the drop but he doesn’t want his men to give them a helping hand this weekend.
A few weeks ago everyone thought that this afternoon’s fixture would be the last capital derby for at least a season. But while Hearts fate is already sealed and they will spend next term in the Championship, Hibs are still shy of the kind of Premiership security they once took for granted.
The Tynecastle side gave their neighbours a boost last weekend by defeating Ross County to give Terry Butcher’s men some breathing space, but the majority of Hearts fans would still love to see Hibs finish the campaign in the play-off spot and ultimately take the tumble along with them. The Gorgie gaffer can understand that view but says people have to look at the game as a whole and insists the loss of Hibs as well as Hearts from the top tier would be the worst possible scenario for Scottish football.
“Of course it would be a bad thing, it would be terrible. And not just for Edinburgh, but for the whole of Scottish football. If you look at the bigger picture, we don’t have a league sponsor, we don’t have a sponsor for the League Cup and we need all of our top teams in the top division. There’s no doubt about that – it would be a blow. Even if there was the prospect for four derbies next season.
“The top flight is the one that everybody looks at. My concern is for Scottish football, and it is not a great prospect. You will have ourselves and Rangers in the Championship and you don’t want any other big clubs down there because it means we all can’t come up at the same time.
“Will the fans be buying into that? No, they won’t. But, as I say, Hibs are a big club, Hearts are a big club, Rangers are a big club, and I want all of these clubs in the top flight. I want to see Scottish football being really competitive and, at the minute, you can’t really say that is the case.
“Let’s not be disrespectful to the Championship. They have some good, well-run teams in there – your Falkirks, your Raith Rovers; sides like Livingston. You could go through them. So, the Championship will be a really good league next year. You want all of your leagues to be competitive, but in my view the top league needs to have all of the best teams.”
With that in mind, losing out on the passion and intensity of the capital clashes is a sacrifice he is willing to make but that doesn’t mean he won’t miss the head to heads next term. Stating that it will leave a void in the football calendar, he maintains even the promise of four league encounters with Rangers won’t compensate.
“It won’t just be me that misses the derby. Players from both sides will miss it, media guys will miss it and the fans will miss it. It is a wonderful game for everyone to be involved in. Looking at the bigger picture, it is a game we need. Not to have the Edinburgh derby, not to have the Old Firm and maybe not having a Dundee derby either – it’s not great. The Hearts-Hibs games over numerous years, and even well before I was involved, were huge games for the fans. Games against Rangers are obviously big and will take care of themselves. But, certainly for the city, for the fans and for the rivalry, it’s not an Edinburgh derby.”
The last time the clubs met the painful reality was that Hibs could rub salt in Hearts relegation wounds by being the side to seal their fate but Locke was delighted to see his young charges show real defiance to postpone the inevitable and ensure that wouldn’t be the case. Since then they have gone four games unbeaten, while Hibs have been the team struggling.
The turnabout in fortunes sees Hearts going into this afternoon’s fixture as favourites, a label validated by previous results between the pair this season and Locke is confident his players can live up to that pre-match billing.
“I think it is credit to the players and the work they have done this season. I’ve said all along that we have a lot of good young players who are great professionals. Contrary to what one or two people might say, we have worked really hard on the training pitch all season and the pleasing thing is that we are now seeing the hard work come to fruition. They are physically stronger, fitter, more aware of their surroundings and more comfortable in a first-team environment. Everyone can see the difference from the start of the season to now. There is a lot to build on next season, they are improving and can only get better.
“The difference in mood [from the last derby] shows you how things can change in football. Certainly, from our perspective we are going down there to get three points – I’m not concerned about what the outcome means for anyone else. We’ve been on a decent run and playing well, with plenty of confidence. We know it will be difficult because Hibs are desperate to get three points because they want three points to stop themselves from getting dragged towards relegation themselves. From our point of view, we just want to win the match.
“The derbies are big, big games. People might say: ‘They’re already relegated, the pressure is off Hearts’. Not to me, it’s not. First and foremost, you want to win the derby for your supporters and that brings pressure. People will say there is more pressure on Hibs but I don’t see it like that, we have been on a decent run and we want to keep that going between now and the end of the season. We want to try and get within the 15-point mark of the teams above us so we have plenty of targets and Sunday will be a challenging game.”