So long to Marvin Bartley: Hibernian’s hammer of Hearts players

Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley, left, has signed a pre-contract deal with Livingston. Picture: SNS
Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley, left, has signed a pre-contract deal with Livingston. Picture: SNS
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With the news that Marvin Bartley will be leaving Hibs to sign a three-year deal with Scottish Premiership side Livingston, Craig Fowler looks at the player’s impact in Edinburgh derbies over the past four seasons.

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A high speed collision. A tangling of legs. A thundering tackle. An opponent sent flying. A lovely flowing move. One of these hasn’t been prevalent during Edinburgh derbies matches these past few years and there are no prizes for guessing which one.

The capital’s showpiece fixture has been more about blood and thunder than seductive skills. It’s Scottish football in its most stereotypical form. There may not be much in the way of ability - even those with talent are typically afforded a nanosecond in which to create a piece of magic - but you cannot take your eyes of it. It moves at 110mph and creates an environment where brawn is just as valuable as ball control, if not more so.

Marvin Bartley was never the most subtle of players in the green and white but he was very effective at his job. He was tasked with the enforcer role in front of the back four. With a broad, athletic frame, it was his job to break up opposing attacks and get his side on the front foot. It was in matches against Hearts were these attributes were at their most valuable.

Hibs fans often bemoaned the “softness” of their players when it came to derbies. This played up to certain myths and cliches about Hearts *always* having a squad of hammer-throwers and Hibs being the good guys trying to play football the right way. However, there was a certain element of truth to the notion that the Easter Road side lacked the toughness to see out clashes with their rivals, as they often succumbed to fatalism even against weaker Hearts sides.

That hasn’t been the case since the Leith revival started when new chief executive Leeann Dempster punted Terry Butcher following the club’s relegation to the second tier and replaced him with Alan Stubbs. Despite finishing the following season 21 points behind Hearts in the Championship table, they were able to play their rivals to a dead heat in the four derbies, a far cry from the four out of five lost to Gary Locke’s men the previous campaign.

Things improved further after Bartley’s arrival the following summer. This, of course, wasn’t largely down to the former Bournemouth and Burnley midfielder - for instance, John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch also signed that window - but his presence in the line-up certainly helped matters and his record in all-Edinburgh matches makes for pleasant reading for those of a Hibs persuasion.

2015/16 - 2 games, 2 starts, 1 win, 1 draw, 180 mins, 1 booking, 2 goals conceded with Bartley on the field

2016/17 - 2 games, 2 starts, 1 win, 1 draw, 180 mins, 1 goal conceded with Bartley on the field

2017/18 - 4 games, 3 starts, 2 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss, 273 minutes, 0 goals conceded with Bartley on the field

2018/19 - 2 games, 2 starts, 1 win, 1 draw, 107 mins, 0 goals conceded with Bartley on the field

During his time with the club he’s lost only once to Hearts: the 1-0 defeat in the Scottish Cup last January, a match where the winning goal arrived after he’d departed the field. In total he played 740 minutes against the Jambos and, in that time, the Tynecastle club scored just three times. That’s three goals in over eight games worth of football.

He just suited the occasion down to a tee, not only his style of play but his temperament also. Where as others would be intimidated by the atmosphere and hatred of an Edinburgh derby, Bartley relished them. He welcomed the battle and even though he’d be more than happy to send opponents flying with a well-timed shoulder barge, he never went over the line, drew the wrath of the official and got his team into trouble.

Even this season, with his powers so clearly in decline due to his advancing age, he’s been an asset in these games. The 0-0 draw in Gorgie on Halloween night was arguably his best performance this season. It also happened to be his first start in three months and he was made captain for the occasion. Then-manager Neil Lennon had no hesitations about throwing him into the side and it was evident within two minutes that it was the correct decision. Bartley executed a well-timed tackle on Sean Clare as the midfielder made his way into the penalty box. He then tore after the loose ball and got in a block before Callumn Morrison could cross into the box. The Hibs crowd in the away stand roared in approval.

His relationship with the Hibs support was always a strong one and it is expected to remain so during his time in Almondvale. He’s always active on social media and his penchant for winding up Hearts fans after a defeat will likely continue. The two capital clubs always bring a large away support to Livingston. When Bartley lines up in the gold and black, he’ll receive a warm hand from the travelling Hibs fans and a cacophony of boos from the visiting Hearts support. Don’t be surprised if it brings out the best in him.

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