THIS has been a season of very few highlights for Hearts, but the Edinburgh derby has provided two – their league win at Tynecastle in August and their League Cup victory at Easter Road two months later. The latter match, a 1-0 win which turned out to be Pat Fenlon’s last game in charge of Hibs, was particularly memorable for Jamie MacDonald.
A superb display by the goalkeeper kept Hearts in the tie during an opening half-hour which Hibs dominated, and if MacDonald plays to the same level tomorrow he will at the very least have given his team a chance of victory. “For me the cup game at Easter Road is probably my standout for the season,” he said. “We won the first couple [of derbies] and unfortunately lost the last one, but we always seem to rise to the occasion in derby games and hopefully the boys can do it again on Sunday.”
Hearts have conceded 56 goals in the league alone, although their nadir came in the Scottish Cup match at home to Celtic, when they lost seven. Anyone who had not seen the team play might presume from those statistics that they had a problem with their goalkeeper, but the reality is that MacDonald has performed wonders most weeks even to keep the tally that low. Playing behind a very inexperienced team has been the biggest challenge so far in the 27-year-old’s career, but it is one he has risen to impressively.
“It’s been hard,” he said. “Mentally more than anything. You want to win games and we’ve not done that enough. It’s been a strange season. It’s probably been the best season I’ve had in personal performances, but conceding a lot of goals and losing games. I don’t know how I’ll look back on it at the end of the year – is it success for myself or not?
“It’s been a mentally tough season as it has been for everyone, but it’s just going to make me stronger and better. You learn more in this kind of situation than you do winning 5-0 every week, especially as a goalkeeper.”
Both teams will be under pressure for different reasons tomorrow, but MacDonald is confident that his own side will be more able to deal with the situation, as they have done in most of the seasons the goalkeeper can remember. “Hearts over the years, certainly in my time here, have had a good record against Hibs and even going back 20 years Hearts have had a good record.
“You’d need to ask them if it’s a psychological thing or not. It’s a game I look forward to and it’s a game you want to play in. It’s a great atmosphere.”
It could also be a particularly tense atmosphere if Hearts need a result to avoid relegation – something that will only be determined today by the game between Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Mirren. MacDonald knows that demotion has been inevitable for some time, but he believes his team owe it to the fans not to have that fate confirmed in a game against their oldest rivals.
“For the fans more than anything you don’t want it to happen,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want it to happen for ourselves, but more so for the fans. For a bit of pride we’d like to win the game.”