Hearts manager Craig Levein chucked a verbal grenade into the derby mix when he talked about restoring natural order in the wake of his side’s Scottish Cup victory over derby rivals Hibernian.
On Friday, the city foes will re-engage with observers waiting to see if those comments blow up in his face.
That could happen, according to former Hibs player Steven Tweed, who believes the opposition players will embrace the loose talk as it invariably serves as an incentive, with midfielder John McGinn already goading Hearts, who trail their neighbours in the league, stating that everyone could assess the “natural order [when the league action reaches a conclusion] on 14 May and see who’s on top.”
But while Easter Road manager Neil Lennon read disrespect into his counterpart’s post-match comments, Tweed, pictured, sensed only relief.
“As someone who does have a good derby record, Craig Levein has probably been embarrassed by the results Hearts have been having and it was probably just relief from him.”
As a player and manager, Levein has only lost seven of the 55 capital head to heads he has contested and having watched from the stand, as director of football, as the power swung in Hibs’ favour in the past few years, he was quoted earlier in the season admitting that it gets to him every time they come away without a win. “It bothers me every time we lose and it bothers me when we draw. It is something that is a huge irritation for me,” he said.
Coming on the back of nine games without a win, he conceded that the 1-0 triumph in January did alleviate some of the anxiety that may have been building in the stands and within the club.
“The longer the run goes on, the more difficult it becomes and the more steely Hibs become when they’re protecting something. We needed to break it and break it as quickly as possible and that was relief,” said Levein.
“That is the way we felt when we finally ended the 22-in-a-row run,” said Tweed of a period in time, between 1989 and 1994. “The overriding feeling was relief.”
Being at Hibs at a time when their rivals had such a hold over them – “although remember stats can be turned around to suit people and if you actually look at that run, nine of those games ended in draws so it wasn’t as if they were hammering us every time,” – Tweed knows how the pressure cranks up on players and staff.
“Alex Miller [the Hibs manager throughout that prolonged derby drought] even brought a psychologist in. Looking back, I can’t remember if it was to help us with the derbies or just something he was experimenting with in general, but players were aware when the derbies were coming round and like in the Scottish Cup we knew we needed to get a win.
“Runs like that start with a loss and then maybe a couple of draws and before you know it there is a spotlight on it and it has become a thing. Everyone is talking about it, in papers and in pubs but that is exaggerated these days because there are so many media outlets, so many online forums, extended discussions on radio or TV and it’s all across social media.
“Back then the pressure was bad enough, but you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of something like that now, not with so much scrutiny and with so many people spinning things to suit their own agenda.”
Tweed can still vividly remember Gordon Hunter’s winner hitting the net in 1994 to end a five-year drought and visualise the euphoria of the Hibs fans behind the goal.
“It had been a long time coming which is something I couldn’t really understand,” he said. “Coming through the youth ranks at that time, we actually had the better of Hearts in things like the BP Youth Cup and when I broke into the first team I thought it would be a natural progression.
“Winning can become almost expected. That’s maybe the way it was for Craig and the other Hearts players at that time. But I remember a lot of the games in that run and they were close and it was maybe just one incident that went against us. Hearts wouldn’t have cared about that. Players don’t look at the bigger picture, they look at themselves.”
That is why, while Lennon seemed infuriated by Levein’s comments, describing them as a “crock of crap”, many of his players will have been bewildered, according to Tweed.
“The players will have seen the comments and wondered what he was talking about because whether they are guys who had played seven or eight games of the previous derbies or only a couple, they weren’t used to losing to Hearts. They are above them in the league and players don’t care that Hearts once went 22 in a row, they only think about current results so Levein talking about restoring natural order would have puzzled them.
“And some of them would have thought ‘cheeky git’. That will give them something to prove on Friday and they will go into that game even stronger than the last time the teams met.
“Hearts players will need to be wary of that and some of them might look back at Craig’s comments and think ‘cheers gaffer’ because it is okay him saying what he likes but they are the ones who now need to go out there and back up his words with another win.”