IT IS not every day that one of the most committed Hearts supporters ever to play for the Tynecastle club says something sympathetic about Hibernian, but that is what happened yesterday when Gary Locke, Hearts’ caretaker manager, offered his considered opinion on Leigh Griffiths.
The Hibs striker, who grew up supporting the Easter Road club, has attracted a lot of publicity for various activities away from football and has become something of a hate figure for the Hearts support. But, as he looked forward to Sunday’s Edinburgh derby, Locke said he could empathise with Griffiths because of the stick he has taken from the opposing set of fans.
“I can identify with what he has gone through,” said Locke, a Hearts supporter all his days and a former captain of the club. “It was the same for myself and the likes of Gary Mackay and Scott Crabbe as local boys. And at Hibs Ian Murray, Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor have been through it as well.
“It can be difficult at times being a local boy, but this season he has knuckled down and he’ll admit himself he’s playing the best football of his career.”
It was a Griffiths hat-trick which inspired Hibs to victory in last week’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Kilmarnock, albeit with the assistance of some stunning ineptitude from the home defence. Having been a spectator at that game at Rugby Park, Locke is well aware of just how dangerous Griffiths can be at the moment.
“I think he’s the form striker in the league and we’ll have to be wary of him. I watched them last week and to Leigh’s credit, he’s been first class this season.
“His movement, his touch, the goals he has scored this season have been fantastic. And that’s credit to the lad – he puts up with a lot being a local guy.
“I think a lot of people have it in for him. But not me,”
Griffiths has been relatively quiet in the three derbies played so far this season, He scored Hibs’ equaliser in the 1-1 draw back in August, but did little of note in the fixtures which followed – the Scottish Cup tie in December won 1-0 by Hibs, and the goalless draw the following month.
“In the derbies so far we have done quite well against him,” Locke added. “We know how dangerous he can be.
“But I’m just concentrating on what we do. I think we have players who can cause them problems as well.”