The last time Hearts travelled to Easter Road to play Hibs, the Edinburgh rivals earned a point each but, for one, it represented a resilient salvage operation worth celebrating, the other a merciless mugging.
With 11 minutes remaining and Hearts already trailing 1-0 to a Dominique Malonga goal, Callum Paterson was red-carded for a rash challenge on the Hibs striker. As the clock edged its way through stoppage time, the Tynecastle side were contemplating the disappointment of their first league defeat of the season coming against their capital foes when Alim Ozturk stunned the crowd with a 40-yard screamer that snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat.
It was yet another boot in the nether regions for a team who have had to absorb so many blows from their neighbours and it was a relief for Paterson, who had been left languishing in the away dressing room.
“Thankfully, Alim pulled off that wonder strike. I didn’t know about it, though. I thought we’d got beaten 1-0. No one was kind enough to tell me we’d equalised. I was just left there to rot.
“They came in at the end of the game and everyone was a bit happy and I was like: why? Alim tried to tell me about the goal and I was like: you’re having me on. There was massive relief for me. You don’t know what to do, sent off, down the tunnel on your own and you’re just kind of distraught really. There’s an empty feeling, there’s guilt. It could be your fault that the game was lost. It was the first red card I’d ever had. I’d never even been sent off from the under-9s or 10s, so I never really knew what to do. But there were a few things flying across the dressing room!
“Luckily he went up and scored and dug me out a massive hole. If the result had gone the other way, then it might have been a bit different. But I saw the goal the night after the next day’s training and it was a great strike. Hopefully he can get another at the weekend.”
The goal spared him major criticism for leaving his men at a numerical disadvantage, but Paterson still looks back on that sending off as one of the lowest points of his career, though he says it hasn’t scarred him, not when he has brighter memories from the Leith ground to focus on. The derby fixture is one that has been kind to him, and with the short-term future of the capital clash hingeing on Hibs’ ability to safely negotiate a play-off process which represents their only hope of promotion and joining Hearts in the top flight next term, he wants to make the most of the final rumble of this season.
“You never know, it could be the last one for a while,” says the right-back. “Hopefully it’s not because it’s a massive thing for the fans and players to look forward to. It’s always a great occasion with lots of drama and lots of goals when it does come round.”
Memories of Paterson’s goals at Easter Road fuel his eagerness to add more to the collection and push the Championship winners closer to their unofficial target of 100-plus team goals for the season. They have 90 goals already, six contributed by Paterson, and, with only four games left, they know the century is attainable. To eat further into that tally in a derby would be special, according to the 20-year-old Scot.
“There’s obviously been that bad one [the sending off],” he says, summing up past city clashes. “There’s been loads of good ones. It’s great to play in, great atmosphere for everyone and the tempo and style of play is always up there with the best and I’ve got two goals at Easter Road, one here. The feeling of scoring at Easter Road was great and one I’d like to experience again. It [the second of his brace] turned out to be the winner [in the corresponding fixture last year]. Hopefully I can grab another couple and get a result.”
The 26-point gap between the teams would suggest a major gulf, but the three previous games between the pair this season have been close. The first was won 2-1 by Hearts, but Hibs missed a penalty that day and the next two were 1-1 draws. “The games have been tight this season. It’s been small margins. We lost a penalty here in the first five minutes and, thankfully, we’ve come back and won or drawn the games,” says Paterson.
But that ability to grind out results, whether swarming ten-goal victories or tense and testing draws and narrow victories, with a spirit that can tip things in their favour has been the difference between the teams and the reason Hibs are the only side involved in the game today with more than pride and self-set targets to play for.
For Hearts the bragging rights are a driving force, but so too are the personal goals which drive them. Most of all they want to maintain the positivity as they propel themselves back to the Premiership.
“We’re looking forward to next year and top-flight football and carrying on the form from this season into the next,” says Paterson.