How two Edinburgh derbies in April will be defining for Hearts and Hibs
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson called it the “defining one of the season”. That “one” is eight days. Eight days, two Edinburgh derbies.
For the fans, it isn’t merely eight days. That was plain to see on social media after the rivals were pitted against one another in the Scottish Cup semi-final. The anticipation, the waiting, the nerves, the sleepless nights will last a month.
Both sets of supporters have had plenty of experience of such a build-up with the April cup game the fourth time in the last 16 years the Capital duo will play each other at Hampden Park.
While it currently stands at 3-0 to Hearts, it is a fixture no one is prepared to lose. So, despite what has gone one before, those nerves will be dialled up.
Steve Clarke said recently that he told his Scotland players “don't play with the fear of failure, try to play with the anticipation of success”. That’s a mantra which will likely resonate with Neilson and Shaun Maloney, but for Hearts and Hibs fans it is impossible to ignore the fear, the worst-case scenario. Losing a derby.
The match has the added edge with a league fixture the week before the semi-final.
As things stand, it is more accurate to suggest those eight days are more defining for Hibs boss Maloney.
The win over Motherwell was a huge boost considering it followed three successive draws. And, despite poor league form, the Easter Road side sit fourth and favourites for a top-six place.
Come the visit to Tynecastle in April, three points may be required for Hibs to retain that top six place. Dropping into the bottom half on the final day of the pre-split season would increase the focus on the management and team and place even more importance on derby success at Hampden and the pressures which come with that. Following it up with defeat in Glasgow would effectively end Hibs' season.
A top-six finish and, at the very least, a Scottish Cup final appearance with the club’s first ever success over their rivals at Hampden Park would give Maloney some platform to build on for next season.
Hearts, with a 13-point lead in third, are on the cusp of achieving what is expected of them in the league. The cup fixture is the all-important one. Ninety – or 120 – minutes which will define the season. It could see a very good campaign become a decent one. Or a very good campaign, an excellent one.
You only have to look at a recent poor run of form before winning at St Mirren how views can quickly change amongst the Tynecastle Park fanbase and how the mood surrounding Neilson alters.
A loss to Hibs at Hampden Park, despite success in the 2020 edition, would see those questions being asked of the manager once more, those doubts being aired and a lot of gnashing of teeth.
What has been a fine campaign in the league with a return to Europe on the horizon, would essentially peter out, lose steam, disgruntlement rather than delight.
That's the price of success in a derby. That’s how important it is to fans. That’s why there will be a lot of sleepless nights in Edinburgh over the next month.
A message from the Editor: Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.