Hearts v Dundee: Why this particular match comes with so much baggage

When it comes to football rivalry, it doesn’t take much to heap animosity onto ill-feeling, which is why Saturday’s Hearts v Dundee clash comes with so much baggage.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson with Dundee manager James McPake at Tynecastle last season.

While Dens Park boss James McPake has tried to quash the idea that his club’s role in the Gorgie side’s demotion during the pandemic remains an issue, his opposite number knows that football fans have long memories and has made no secret of the fact the enduring enmity will be used to incentivise his players.

"I think in football these things can linger on for a long long time,” said Robbie Neilson this week. “It's part of life, nothing goes away now.”

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Nothing. Which is why there is so much intrigue surrounding this match, and why Hearts want to get one over on Dundee and so many at Dundee would love to be the ones to ensure Hearts’ can’t move top of the table.

If the capital side do not like the choices made by Dens Park managing director John Nelms at the start of the first lockdown, Dundee staff and fans are fed up with their Gorgie rivals banging on about it.

But they should know that forgiving and forgetting is never easily done in football.

The mention of Albert Kidd and that day in 1986, when the Tayside side denied their Tynecastle opponents the league title, still wounds.

But the ill-feeling is not all one-way. In the Dundee ranks, manager McPake is never likely to escape the emotional pain inflicted by Hearts in the 2012 Scottish Cup final, when he was part of the Hibs side humiliated 5-1, and Jason Cummings has a point to prove every time he lines up against the boyhood team that rejected him.

And, Hearts will be wary of that as he has popped up with seven goals in a dozen appearances against them.

There is history also with Paul McGowan, who was part of the St Mirren team that prevented back to back cup wins for Hearts when they beat them in the 2013 League Cup final, while 2016 Scottish Cup winner Liam Fontaine had several years at Hibs – ousting Hearts from the competition en route to that historic win – and has spoken about his enduring love for the Leith club.

Nowhere is the disdain more mutual, though, than when it comes to Hibbee diehard Leigh Griffiths and the Hearts support.

Whether in the green and white of Hibs or the hoops of Celtic, or even as part of a disgusting pub sing-along, he has always known how to get under the skin of the Hearts fans. They have not been backward in coming forward when it comes to letting him know that his dislike is reciprocated, showering him with banter and barbs.

As one of the Celtic players who saw their 69-game unbeaten run ended by Hearts at Tynecastle, in 2017, he now has the opportunity to prevent them extending this season’s league tally to 10.

With better teams, and when in better form, he has only managed nine in 24 outings against the Jambos, but no-one at Hearts will be unaware of the danger he still poses in front of goal. Especially, when the incentive is there. And, in this one, incentives are everywhere.

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