IN the build up to last weekend’s League Cup semi-final, St Johnstone and Hibs passed the favourites tag back and forth like it was too hot to handle. A week on, and the Leith side’s opponents, Hearts, have happily taken on that role ahead of today’s Scottish Cup fifth-round tie, writes Moira Gordon.
“We’re comfortable with it,” said Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson. “We’re sitting third in the top league. We should be winning the game – that’s it. It’s a game at Tynecastle. Any derby, we should be winning at Tynecastle. It’s just part of being at Hearts. When it comes to games at Tynecastle, we’re generally the favourites.”
Those odds have been justified more often than not and while Neilson acknowledges that the team which matched them in derbies last term, with two draws and one win apiece, have the ability to maintain their progress in the Championship and join Hearts in the top tier next term, the fact remains that Hearts are ranked 11 places above their city rivals and he expects his players to make that count.
Following the postponement of Hearts’ match at Inverness last Saturday, the Tynecastle coach was able to watch Alan Stubbs’ men for the second successive week and the way Hibs went about beating St Johnstone to reach the League Cup final made a big impression.
“I thought Hibs played really well, I was really impressed with them,” Neilson said. “I thought they dominated the majority of the game and did what they do in the Championship – pass the ball really well. They’ve got a really good squad and they’ve added to it well in the January window. I expect them to get promoted this year. Once they get into the Premiership it’s a different challenge.”
Hibs will have to deal with everything Hearts throw at them this afternoon and that will include a few unknown quantities. Osman Sow is still a maybe and they will know what threat the returning Jamie Walker can pose but containing Abiola Dauda may be more problematic.
“He gives us real pace,” says Neilson. “Osman’s main assets were his pace and his power and that’s what Dauda’s got.
“Everyone I’ve brought in has played big games in other cities. They know exactly what’s going on, they know the build-up, they know what’s expected of them.”
Neilson says he will leave it up to Sow as to whether he feels in the right frame of mind to play. The striker was in China last week to negotiate his transfer to Henan Jianye but is eligible for the derby. Walker played 45 minutes for the under-20 side in midweek, his first action since recovering from a knee injury which has kept him out since October.