HEARTS’ fate is inescapable, while Hibernian still have survival to fight for. But anyone who thinks that means only one team will be motivated in tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby does not know Gary Locke or his young squad.
One factor to take into account is that, despite having had their relegation confirmed three weeks ago, Hearts are now in the most optimistic frame of mind they have been all season. They are now close to coming out of administration at last, and expect to take the next step towards the exit door on Monday, when a cooling-off period for Ubig’s creditors to object to a share-selling agreement comes to an end.
With their own futures almost secure, the players can now look forward to the novelty of playing in the Championship next season. They aim to give further proof in their final few games in the Premiership that they have the ability to compete in the top flight, and they know there is no better way of doing that than to record a fourth win of the season over Hibs.
Such a result would only deepen the difficulties Hibs are in, but Locke suggested yesterday that his team’s city rivals are a far better side than their present league position might suggest. “This year we have done okay with the derbies, and it’s important we go in with the same attitude again, because I have no doubt we are going in against a really good Hibs side,” the manager said.
“I certainly don’t buy into their current form. They have good players and a great management team and we know it’s going to be a really tough game.
“All the Edinburgh derbies are the same. It doesn’t matter what the form is going into it, who is doing well and who is doing not so well, the derbies are completely different. We know we’re in for a really difficult game.”
Although Hearts’ form has picked up in recent weeks, with wins over Partick Thistle and Ross County as well as a draw with Aberdeen since they beat Hibs 2-0 at the end of last month, there have been long stretches of the season when they have struggled to get a result. Their record against Hibs is therefore all the more remarkable, although Locke admitted to being unsure why exactly they had done so well.
“I have no idea why we have had the edge,” he said. “There are always wee decisions in games that can turn things in your favour.
“You saw that in the last one when Hibs had a goal chalked off and the one before when they got a penalty late on and scored it. So there are wee decisions in games that can change things for you.
“It helps that we have a lot of Hearts fans in the team. Certainly from a personal point of view it was always a game I looked forward to.
“You knew what was at stake. You knew the bragging rights in the city were up for grabs. But at the same time we have to play the game and not the occasion.
“We have a young team and an enthusiastic team and if we play the way we have done over the last few weeks we have a good chance of winning the game. There’s always a buzz about training – we have a really good young squad who all get on well with each other.
“And you can definitely see the tempo of the training lift slightly ahead of bigger games. I’m delighted with the way we’ve trained this week and hopefully we can take that into Sunday.”
Although Jamie Hamill will be suspended after his dismissal for barging into Ross County manager Derek Adams last week, Locke has close to a full squad available. Captain Danny Wilson is back after a two-match ban, and the pace of Billy King and Sam Nicholson on the wings should be a real threat to a Hibs defence which has often been slow to react to danger.
Whoever starts for the visitors will have one more reason than usual to seek a win against their rivals: take away the self-inflicted 15-point penalty which Hearts have carried all season, and three points tomorrow would put them level with Hibs. While that would do nothing to alter the fact Hearts are already relegated, Locke said it would be “a great achievement for us given the youthfulness of the team.
“But we know it’s going to be difficult – going to Easter Road is always hard. So we need to make sure we put in a performance similar to the ones we’ve put in over the last couple of months or we won’t win the game.”