Their colours may have changed but Darren McGregor believes the enthusiasm for victory at Easter Road within Raith Rovers’ former Hearts contingent will not have diminished. He does, however, hope it will also bring out the best in Hibernian this weekend.
There was already enough of a rivalry between the teams as they vied for a top-four spot and then met in the play-off quarter-finals last season for this term’s encounters to be meaty affairs. However, the addition of former Hearts player, skipper and manager Gary Locke, pictured, as Rovers’ new boss in the summer, plus the subsequent recruitment of ex-Jambos defender Kevin McHattie and Tynecastle hero Rudi Skacel has added further spice.
With one-time Hearts full-back Jason Thomson already on the books at Stark’s Park, McGregor reckons there will be no shortage of extra motivation in the Raith ranks on Christmas Eve as they seek a victory at the home of the team a significant handful have in the past viewed as bitter city foes.
“Raith is going to be a tough ask, with Gary Locke, an ex-Jambo, coming,” he said. “He’ll want to win at Easter Road. There’s a few Jambos there who’ll want to celebrate their Christmas in style by beating us.
“They’re coming off the back of a good draw with Dundee United last weekend as well. They’ve got a good experienced manager and experienced players who will enjoy coming here, so it’s up to us to make it uncomfortable for them and try to get the victory. There will be a wee bit of extra needle – Gary Locke will want to come to Easter Road and win, of course he will. He’s played with Hearts, he’s got a connection with Hearts and everybody who has played for Hearts in the past brings a bit of needle. But that adds to the enjoyment of the game, knowing everyone is chomping at the bit ready to go. I like those kind of games, they suit me.”
Hibs have won five of their last eight outings and only lost once – the 1-0 defeat by Dundee United that allowed their title rivals to draw level on points at the top of the table earlier this month. They can still boast of being in pole position to land the title and the automatic promotion spot that McGregor admits is “imperative” after two failed attempts.
However, the defender is honest enough to confess that performances in the win over Dumbarton and Saturday’s draw with Morton that have followed the loss to United have been sub-standard.
Neil Lennon’s side, who will undoubtedly be buoyed by the loan signing of Kris Commons from Celtic, missed a golden opportunity to move two points ahead of United when Raith did them a favour and eked out a 0-0 stalemate with the Tannadice side at the weekend.
But Hibs struggled to a 1-1 draw of their own at Cappielow and required a stunning Jason Cummings free-kick to ensure a below-par performance did not turn into a dispiriting defeat.
“Sometimes you don’t want to make too much of an issue out of things,” added McGregor. “In a couple of games we’ve been poor and we are professionals and we’re all well aware we need to up our game. It’s up to us to address it, individually and collectively as a team, and I believe we’ll do that. This is our time to show our mettle and give us all a good Christmas. A win would be a great Christmas gift to us all.”
McGregor was speaking to help publicise an event being held in partnership between Tesco and the Hibs Community Foundation which will serve lunch to up to 250 homeless, elderly and lonely locals at Easter Road on Christmas Day.
McGregor, who plans to attend with his own family, commented: “For myself, as a father, a son and a brother, to know someone close to me might be lonely and hungry at Christmas would be devastating.
“In this world we look after our own and sometimes forget people that are less fortunate than ourselves. To help them out is great. It speaks highly of Hibs as a club that they are helping out the community the way they are.”