Rudi Skacel. Ian Black. Stephen Elliott. All derby talismen for Hearts last season. All will be absent from Easter Road on Sunday.
Skacel’s derby pedigree needs no introduction. He scored three goals last season against Hibs and was chief tormentor in the Scottish Cup final when they romped to a 5-1 win. Black was the orchestrator in midfield, the man who dominated his opponents and laid on countless assists in the four derbies. Elliott may not have found the net in those games but his willing runs, tireless link-up play and constant harrying of the Hibs defence created opportunities for others.
Hearts scored 12 goals against Hibs in the last campaign. Of course, the team effort cannot be discounted – heck, four defensive-minded players in Andy Webster, Ryan McGowan, Danny Grainger and Darren Barr found the net against the men in green – but Hibs will breathe just a tad easier now that Skacel, Black and Elliott aren’t wearing maroon come 12.30pm on Sunday.
Now, therefore, is the time for a new derby hero to step up to the mantle. The onus looks likely to fall on John Sutton, now that Elliott and Craig Beattie, another derby goalscorer, have departed. The big Englishman has started the season impressively, netting against St Johnstone in the 2-0 win last weekend and firing in a fistful of goals in pre-season. But the derby is such a match when an apprentice becomes a maroon master. The acid test of Sutton will be how he can lead the line against a porous Hibs defence, bring wingers Andy Driver and David Templeton into the fray and get goals.
Former Hearts midfielder Colin Cameron, now manager of First Division new boys Cowdenbeath, is no stranger to clashes against Hibs, and appreciates the burden Sutton will be under to replace the work that others have done in previous derbies.
“I heard someone saying that it is important Sutton steps up to the plate this season,” Cameron said. “He’s familiar with the club, he has been back for a while now and he should be settled back in by now.
“I think there will be a bit more pressure on his shoulders because the guys who scored so may goals between them last season have gone but some people like the pressure being put on them.
“I’ve seen players thrive under pressure from people connected to the club, the supporters and the media, while others prefer to just go about their business quietly.
“It’s about how John Sutton handles it now.
“Obviously Hearts have got a good record in this fixture and they will want to maintain that and even extend it but at the same time Hibs will want to squash it. A win could well act as a springboard for their season and they will certainly be looking for revenge [for the Scottish Cup final defeat].
“The game is at Easter Road so Hibs will be hoping that will give them some kind of an advantage but I am sure that the Hearts fans will voice their delight at how things have been going for them – particularly the Scottish Cup final – and that will add to the occasion.”
While Hearts won their opening match of the SPL campaign last weekend, Hibs have struggled to get out of the starting blocks and lost heavily to Dundee United at Tannadice on Sunday and Cameron knows that Easter Road manager Pat Fenlon will be furious with his troops for the way in which they crumbled on Tayside.
He added: “I still keep an eye on these games and after my own result, I always look for the teams who I have played for in the past to see how they have got on. Both teams have lost players and they are in the process of rebuilding their sides right now.
“John McGlynn has only been in the job for a few weeks and will still be trying to get used to everything. They got off to a good start with a very good result against St Johnstone at the weekend.
”Hibs, on the other hand, got off to a bad start against Dundee United and it will not so much be the result that annoys Pat Fenlon the most, but more so the performance. Everyone can lose games but you have to lose them in the right manner.”
Cameron may be a veteran of the Edinburgh rivalry but he has his own derby to take care of this weekend as the Blue Brazil welcome Dunfermline to Central Park for the first game of their Division One campaign.
While relishing the match, Cameron knows the beginning of this campaign will be tough, with numerous players sidelined by injury.
He said: “It’s good to be back in the First Division and I couldn’t have picked a better game to start with. We’re at home, we’re unfurling the championship flag and our first game is a derby as well.
“Things are in a bit of disarray for us at the moment though and I’m actively seeking at least another couple of faces but right now I don’t think that I will be able to do that for Saturday’s game.”