When Jack Ross shook hands with Daniel Stendel in what the Hibs manager recalls resembled hurricane conditions at Oakwell in March, no one could have predicted their next meeting would be on a touchline in Gorgie.
However, both will surely reflect on the twists of fate that deposited them on both sides of the Edinburgh divide over a drink after today’s derby at Tynecastle – providing Stendel’s offer of one is accepted by Ross.
The Hibs manager sounded slightly affronted by the German’s recent claim they did not share a drink following last two season’s clashes.
The first one was at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s ground. Ross claimed an invitation was snubbed. Barnsley’s 4-2 loss may have had something to do with it.
“I think that’s because Daniel didn’t come in,” Ross said, on being informed Stendel had revealed they did not socialise afterwards, as is usually customary. As for the games themselves, they were typically robust lower league English fixtures, reports Ross.
“No more intense than any other games,” he said. “Both were very different games.
“The one at the Stadium of Light was a terrific football game and the one at Oakwell was in a borderline hurricane. Barnsley were probably the best team in the second [game].
“I thought we were good in the first. I enjoyed the games and I’ve no issues that way with Daniel at all. “Not all managers do share a drink,” he added. “It’s a myth that everybody does that after the game, some do and some don’t.
“It’s no big deal.”
Both bosses would have hoped, perhaps expected, to see each other again in the English Championship. Both clubs were riding high at the time of that last meeting – a 0-0 draw – but only Barnsley managed to gain promotion.
Ross faced anguish at Wembley in the play-off final against Charlton Athletic and, while Stendel did a remarkable job in securing automatic promotion, a poor start to the current campaign saw him controversially axed.
Football’s crazily-paved path then got to work.
“It’s modern football, I suppose,” said Ross. “That second game was in March and I don’t think, if you’d said to us then, the two of you would think we would be managing in Scotland in six months’ time. It just shows you how difficult it is to predict where you will be.
“I would regard myself as fortunate in that sense, in that I have got back into a good club.
“And Daniel can answer that himself, but I am sure he would say the same because he has ended up with an opportunity at a big club as well.”
These two big clubs are not currently where they feel they ought to be.
Whether Hearts opt for Stendel’s preferred high pressing game might be harder to discern this afternoon, since it’s always been the only way to play on such a high-octane occasion – particularly for the home side.
Added to this potentially combustible mix is Hearts’ urgent need for points. There’s no better time or place for the German to get his first victory since taking charge.
Ross cannot allow himself to be distracted by Hearts’ position at the bottom of the league and he’s unsure if the current discord in the stands will necessarily be a negative factor for the hosts this afternoon.
“In these kinds of game if there is any disharmony between the supporters and team often you find adversity is maybe where they come together more, and a derby match might give them that,” he reasoned. “I think the supporters might be more patient and more willing to get behind them because of who the opposition is.”
Hibs have their own ambitions. Like Hearts, these might be less lofty than they at one point hoped, but at least getting into the top six would be a positive step to take as they move into another year.
Two wins, over Hearts and then Livingston on Sunday, would guarantee 2020 starts this way. While Ross accepts it’s not something to go overboard about, it is a target. Six points would also prove an impressive response to successive defeats against Celtic and Rangers.
The fit-again Darren McGregor, pictured above, seems the obvious candidate to replace the suspended Ryan Porteous, sent off in the 3-0 loss to the Ibrox side last Friday.
But Ross also suggested Adam Jackson, who hasn’t started since the Betfred Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic, could come back in.
“For us it is important because we worked hard to get back into the top six so quickly over the last month and then we dropped out over the weekend,” reflected the Hibs manager. “Our aim is to be back in there for the turn of the year – and to ensure that we need to win our next two games. That’s the aim for us. It is a very short-term aim but it is a very clear one.
“Winning these next two matches means we finish that part of the season OK… we have gone from a disappointing position to an OK position.
“The only way we do that is winning the next two matches. The Boxing Day match, irrespective of who it is against, is a massive game.”