Abiola Dauda has been informed all about the explosive properties of the Edinburgh derby, so the absence of Hearts fans with fireworks at training yesterday might have been something of a letdown.
This was what he came to expect before Belgrade derbies, when the countdown would begin a whole fortnight before games with Partizan Belgrade, Red Star’s deadly rivals. The striker yesterday revealed that it was not uncommon for Red Star fans to converge on the club’s training pitch prior to the derby to remind the players just how much it meant.
He contends, not unreasonably, that once you have experienced the Belgrade derby, in front of 50,000 often unruly fans, you are ready for anything, including whatever the Edinburgh derby has in store for him when he makes his Hearts debut tomorrow.
“A lot of fans come to the training pitch and they bring fireworks with them, set them off at the training ground,” he recalled. “They make us understand that this is a game for them, that we have to win it for them. We have to respect that. Yeah, it’s scary – quite a few fans would be there, setting off fireworks at the training pitch.”
Of course, the SFA and SPFL would likely take a dim view of such behaviour should Hearts fans, or supporters of any Scottish club, try this at training, never mind actual games, where even smoke bombs are considered outré.
I’ll have to see it with my own eyes, but I’m sure I’ll handle it.Abiola Dauda
But according to Dauda, things did tend to get a little too extreme during the game itself. Whatever happens tomorrow at Tynecastle, it is unlikely to reach the stage where bonfires are being lit in the stands, even if a place in the last eight of the Scottish Cup is at stake.
“There would be trouble at the game, fighting and destroying seats,” he recalled. “The last time, there was a fire in the stadium and we had to stop the game. The fire was at our stadium, started by Partizan fans because they were losing.
“We won that game 1-0 and that was important for the title. The fans had been at our training ground to make sure we won it! If we lost that derby, yeah, our own supporters would turn on us. I don’t think you could walk the streets for the next few weeks. For sure that’s difficult pressure for a footballer. But it’s about having mental strength.
“The impression they [the fans] give to the players is always: ‘This is for us, you have to do this for us’.”
Dauda knows it means as much for fans of Hearts and Hibs, even if they will refrain from indulging in such serious pyrotechnics.
The player has arrived with a determination to prove himself after finding himself exiled at Vitesse Arnhem, from where Hearts have signed the striker on loan.
“I wasn’t getting as many games as I wanted,” he explained. “The coach just preferred other players, I guess.”
Promisingly as far as Hearts fans are concerned, Neilson believes the £1 million-plus deal struck with Chinese club Henan Jianye for Osman Sow represents even greater value because they have landed a better replacement. The head coach described Dauda, who at 28 is three years older than Sow, as the more accomplished player.
“Dauda is a wee bit different from Osman,” he said. “He’s got great pace and his movement is probably better.
“Osman can make something out of nothing, he’s got a magic that he can create something. Dauda is probably a better all-round footballer. Dauda’s technically better dealing with the ball and his movement but that comes from the experience of playing in the top flight in three different countries.”
Neilson expects all three news signings – Dauda, John Souttar and Don Cowie – to feature at some stage tomorrow. Cowie is the least match fit of the trio having made only two appearances for Wigan Athletic since the end of November.
Souttar, meanwhile, could come in to replace the suspended Igor Rossi, with Neilson revealing he sees the versatile former Dundee United teenager as a centre-half predominantly.
“He’s just found it hard in the last year in that he’s played at centre-back, right-back, left-back and centre midfield,” said Neilson.
“When you’re a young kid it’s better to stay in one position or two and playing in a struggling team won’t have helped him. We see him as a centre-back.”
Neilson, an interested spectator at the League Cup semi-final between Hibs and St Johnstone at Tynecastle last weekend, is looking forward to the stadium adopting its usual maroon-dominated aspect after taking on an unusual green hue seven days ago.
“It will be a different story on Sunday,” he said. Although he has had a fairly severe new haircut – “my summer cut” he described it as – it was not because he needed to disguise himself from Hibs last Saturday, when he was like a stranger in his own home. “I enjoyed the occasion,” he said. “There was no hassle. We’ve got respect for each other. It was just the usual banter with football fans.”