ALAN Stubbs has defended Hibernian against claims that they are being disrespectful to Hearts by deciding not to stage a guard of honour for their city rivals ahead of tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby at Easter Road.
The Championship winners have been applauded on to the pitch by their opponents – Queen of the South, Rangers and Alloa Athletic – before each of their three matches since securing the title last month. However, at Thursday’s pre-operations meeting, officials from the Tynecastle club were informed by their Hibs counterparts that this trend will end tomorrow.
Alim Ozturk, the Hearts defender, was irked upon learning of this stance yesterday morning and suggested that “it says a lot about them”. However, this was before Stubbs had had a chance to explain Hibs’ reasoning during his own pre-match media briefing later in the day.
The Easter Road head coach was at pains to stress that the decision is entirely down to minimising the chance of flashpoints at a match which is notoriously highly charged and should not be viewed as a sign of sour grapes. “The reason why we decided against it is because there are two sets of rival fans, it’s a derby, there’s going to be a lot of animosity,” said Stubbs. “You are going to have one set of fans that will be jovial because they’ve won the league, and one that are not going to be happy about that. The most important thing is the safety of the fans and that’s the main reason we’ve done it.
“We don’t want to start the game on a bad foot, that’s the reason we’ve done it. Not a lack of respect. It’s a respect for fans. We didn’t have any police input in the decision. It’s a decision we spoke about [as a club] and we feel as if it’s the right decision for both sets of fans.”
Stubbs insists he and his players have been dignified towards Hearts in the way they have congratulated Robbie Neilson and his players for their runaway title triumph. “The one thing I feel we have been towards Hearts is respectful,” he said.
“I rang Robbie the day after they won the league and congratulated them and said they had been the best team over the season and that it had been fully deserved,” Stubbs said. “I spoke to Robbie again yesterday [at the Under-20s derby], we’ve got a real respect for each other. There is a lot of respect between the two teams. My players have come out in the press and said Hearts have been the best team. I think that’s respect.”
Hearts head coach Neilson was, typically, in no mood for conflict. He insists he has no problem with Hibs’ decision and believes that not being in the spotlight prior to kick-off will do his players good. He is also happy to see any potential source of additional motivation to the Hibs players removed.
“It doesn’t bother me either way,” said Neilson. “It’s up to them what they want to do. Other teams have done it, but that’s Hibs’ prerogative. I think it will actually take some focus off our players, instead of coming out to a guard of honour and not concentrating on the game.
“It can also give the opposition team a bit of spirit and a bit of fight to say: ‘we’ve given you a guard of honour, now we are going to turn you over!’ That can happen. I’ve been in that situation where you are standing there clapping and your first thought is to go out there and show them. Hopefully it will work in our favour that they don’t do it on Sunday.”
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