AFTER feeling he had ended up on the losing side in the last Edinburgh derby despite the result being a draw, Dominique Malonga is desperate to make amends in today’s match – his last for Hibernian before he joins up with the Congo squad for the Africa Cup of Nations.
The 25-year-old, who opened the scoring for Hibs in that 1-1 draw only to see Alim Ozturk equalise for Hearts in time added on, has been given special dispensation by his national coach to play at Tynecastle today. Having only made his international debut last year, he is eager to establish himself in the Congo team, but he insisted yesterday that he will put such matters to one side until he has a chance to erase the “devastating” memory of that last derby.
“In the dressing room, for me personally, it wasn’t a draw, it felt like a defeat,” he said of that match at the end of October. “It was devastating. But it’s happened. He took a chance and he shot, and he scored an amazing goal. It’s happened, but this game is different and we look forward.
“I just want to give my all. I don’t know what will happen, but I want to give my all. It will be better to leave with a win, but I just want to give my all and say goodbye to my fans and go to play for my country.
“I’m not thinking about the African Cup of Nations. I am thinking just about Saturday’s game. My mind is on this game and after that I will go away with my country.
“I am just thinking about what I am going to do on the pitch to help my team-mates and I’m just thinking about this game. In the last game I think we were unlucky. I know Hearts are a good team, but I think we deserved to win the game.”
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After years in which Hearts have proved themselves to be mentally tougher than their neighbours, Malonga believes that Hibs are now just as strong. Even so, he accepted that, after a very inconsistent start to the Championship campaign, his team will need the Tynecastle side to slump if they are to have a chance of overcoming the current 19-point deficit.
“Hearts are a really good team and a consistent team. They’ve won every game at home, and they have won away as well.
“Now we have the mentality like Hearts have had in the whole competition. Hearts play like winners – I think we now have the mentality like this. You have to have this mentality to win the Championship and Hearts have it.
“It will be really hard to close the 19-point gap. If we close the gap it will be because Hearts have gone down and not because we play good.
“We just have to play game after game, but now we have a good mentality and this is a big game because it is the best two teams in the league. And we will see what happens.
“For the fans it is important to have all the players on the pitch and I think it’s important for us and for me. It’s a big game and I want to play in this game.”
Besides being happy to have Malonga available for the match, Hibs manager Alan Stubbs will stress to his players the importance of remaining on the pitch rather than falling foul of the referee. There have been sendings-off in both previous derbies this season, and Stubbs has urged his squad not to let the emotion of the big occasion get to them.
“It’s always important [to keep 11 players on the pitch], but unfortunately there’s a lot of emotion involved in derbies and players can get caught up in it,” he said. “Some players control it better than others: some get wrapped up in it.
“It’s important from my team’s point of view that we have 11 players on the pitch – and if we’re going to get a result we certainly need to do that.
“So they’re going to have to keep all that in check and not get wrapped up in the atmosphere of the game, which is easier said than done, I’ve got to say. It can be difficult at times, but we’ve got to rise above that.
“We’re all human. It can be difficult. But they’re professional footballers, they have a responsibility, and that responsibility is to keep it in check for the football club and get a result.”
Stubbs is poised to include Dylan McGeouch in his squad for the first time since the on-loan Celtic midfielder had an ankle operation. However, the Hibs boss is set to name the same starting line-up for a fourth game in succession.
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