The beauty of derbies is that they can go either way, however much one side is perceived to be advantaged over the other.
So it is with tomorrow’s William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round tie at Tynecastle between Hearts and Hibs. As well as being the home side, Hearts, from the league above, would also normally be considered to have much more quality than Hibs, who are now in their second season in the Championship.
Alan Stubbs, the Hibs manager, concedes Hearts should be most people’s tips to win, but he pointedly described them as only “slight favourites”, despite their higher status. This could be because Hibs have become specialists in bringing Premiership opposition down to size.
Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone have been beaten by Hibs this season. Last season Ross County lost to Hibs in the League Cup while Dundee United inched past them on penalties in the same competition.
“When we faced Aberdeen [earlier this season] that was an indication of where we were, against a team who were doing really well,” said Stubbs. “Dundee United was a bit different because of where they were in the league and results.
“Us being at home helped us against those teams,” he added “Sunday is completely different as in we are away from home and Hearts have definitely improved from last season.”
So too, points out Stubbs, have Hibs. “It is two teams going into a derby in really good form. If I wanted to be selfish I think they would be slight favourites because they have home advantage.
“If we were playing them at Easter Road I would class us as favourites for the same reason.
“So I am really looking forward to the game,” he continued. “It has the makings of a fantastic tie. These are the ties we all want to see. Ideally the two clubs probably didn’t want it now, but it’s here – let’s get it on.”
Unusually, Hibs have had more recent experience of winning at Tynecastle than Hearts. Stubbs’ side defeated St Johnstone last Saturday in their League Cup semi-final, when nearly 13,000 Hibs supporters helped make it their home for the day. Stubbs does not believe such a positive outcome seven days ago will have any bearing on the outcome tomorrow.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “It is literally roles reversed this week because we’ll have one stand and Hearts will have three. Since I have been here we have always gone there and performed.
“When we drew there [last season] I thought we played well and even when we lost there were moments in the game which contributed to the final outcome.
“They have been close games and I envisage this one on Sunday being a close game to be honest.”
From a recent glut of Edinburgh derbies to this, the solitary meeting between the teams this season. According to Stubbs, both sides will be determined to put on a show for the cameras.
Stubbs, who returned in midweek to Merseyside and took in the Everton v Newcastle match, revealed that many of his friends and family have been commenting on how much they have enjoyed recent televised games from Scotland.
Such views are a shot in the arm for Scottish football, particularly after a clip from the Aberdeen v Celtic game on Wednesday, when the ball spent at least 30 seconds being punted and headed back and forth, has gone viral across the internet in the last 48 hours.
“Whenever you see a major broadcaster wanting the game, whether it be Sky or BT, that tells you there is a clamour for it nationwide, not just across Scotland,” he said. “I have had a few people comment on how good our games have been against Rangers, and how much they are looking forward to games. They have said they enjoyed them more than some Premier League games.
“They tend to have a bit of everything,” he continued. “Obviously the football is good, there is blood and thunder, there’s some old fashioned challenges flying in, there’s a great atmosphere – and there will be on Sunday at Tynecastle. That all reverberates through the TV screens. I know we can’t wait for the game – and I am sure Robbie [Neilson] and the fans cannot wait an’ all.”
Someone in particular is relishing a return to Tynecastle, where he knows he will be Public Enemy No 1. Stubbs has backed Anthony Stokes, fresh from scoring the midweek winner against Morton, to be a thorn in Hearts’ side after surprising the manager with how quickly he has settled in since moving on loan from Celtic.
Hibs’ re-strengthening during the transfer window is looking especially prudent now, with midfielder Fraser Fyvie ruled out for up to a month with a medial ligament injury.
“I’m pleased the way he has settled,” said Stubbs of Stokes. “If you look at him in the dressing room, you’d think he’d been here for six months, not three weeks. That’s the type of guy he is.
“Big players bring a buzz with them. He’s certainly brought that, not just to the club, but to the dressing-room.”