Hearts look to spoil Hibs' cup festivities

JUST one day short of a year ago tomorrow, Hibernian supporters were skulking out of Hampden long before the conclusion of their Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts after bearing witness to one of the most humiliating afternoons in their club's history.

In contrast, those who follow the maroon half of Edinburgh's footballing divide were in ecstasy as an extraordinary season reached arguably its highest point with the 4-0 defeat of their great rivals. Hearts duly went on to win the Scottish Cup and finish second in the SPL, a massive 18 points clear of fifth-placed Hibs.

What a difference 12 months makes. Tomorrow at Easter Road, Hibs will go into the third Edinburgh derby of the season as the newly crowned CIS Cup winners and with a Scottish Cup semi-final against Dunfermline still to come.

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They also know victory tomorrow, followed by a win at St Mirren on Tuesday night, would lift them one point clear of Hearts into fourth place in the SPL table and enhance their pursuit of UEFA Cup football.

Change, of course, is the one constant in football and both clubs have undergone significant transformations since that seminal semi-final on 2 April last year. Valdas Ivanauskas and Tony Mowbray, the coaches that afternoon, have moved on to be replaced by Anatoly Korobochka and John Collins respectively. On the field, Hearts no longer call on the services of Steven Pressley, Andy Webster, Paul Hartley and Rudi Skacel, while Hibs have seen Gary Caldwell, Gary Smith and Kevin Thomson move on.

The difference is that while change at Hearts always seems to be of the disruptive, self-inflicted variety, Hibs have managed it in a generally seamless and positive manner which presently makes their support feel far more assured about the future than the growing number of Gorgie fans who are questioning the direction in which club owner Vladimir Romanov is taking them.

A trip to a ground where they have not won since 2002, then, hardly seems an enticing prospect for Hearts, especially with Hibs planning to parade the League Cup trophy in front of the home support after the match. Given the route visiting teams must take from their dressing room to their bus, it is not a scenario Hearts assistant coach Stephen Frail wishes to contemplate.

"We have to walk along the trackside with our kit to go to the bus after the game, and I don't think it would be too great for us to do that after losing the match and while they are parading the cup," said Frail. "We don't want to be waiting in the dressing room after the game while they are walking around with the cup.

"We are not thinking about their cup celebrations and I'm sure they aren't either at the moment. There is a game to be played first and we want to send our fans away from Easter Road with three points and smiles on their faces. It's definitely one party we want to spoil.

"It's a surprise to me that we haven't won at Easter Road for almost five years. We can't think about records like that, though. We just need to start by winning there on Sunday. If we also spoil their party, then great."

Frail, who conducted yesterday's pre-match media conference at Riccarton admirably and intelligently in the continued absence of Korobochka from the line of questioning, believes the time spent at a training camp in Germany has improved both morale and unity in the squad, while Vladimir Romanov's presence there allowed time for discussion over the changes which require to be made to the playing personnel during the close season.

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"It was very good, because that was the first I've really had a chance to sit down and have a chat with Mr Romanov," said Frail. "I hope the partnership between Anatoly and myself will be longer term than the end of the season, but that was never mentioned. Mr Romanov was just getting our thoughts on the squad.

"We need to bring a few players in, I think that's evident. We have a good youth structure, but the young kids need more time to learn their trade. .

"We talked about who was likely to be here next season and who we would like to bring in. I don't know if he agreed with what I said, but I hope he did. We have made him aware of some potential targets and he gave us ideas as well. It was a case of bouncing things off each other.

"I would hope there would be more Scottish or British players brought in, there are some we have targeted and Mr Romanov is aware of them. But if we do bring in another four Lithuanians, Belarussians or whatever, as long as their quality is better that what we've got, you bring them in.

"The trip to Germany was good because after the last game, we needed to make them a tighter unit. The little things we tried over there to implement that, it's now up to them to come back and use. You can only do so much and leave the rest up to them.

"When I spoke previously about divisions in the squad, it came across as if they don't talk to each other at all, but it's not like that. They aren't at each other's throats, there is no in-fighting or anything like that. It's just that there are a lot of youngsters in there who are quiet and we were just trying to get all the nationalities together. It wasn't a dig at any one particular nationality, it was all of them collectively as a group.

"If you look at Hibs last game and at our last game, that maybe tells you the frame of mind both sets of players will be taking into Sunday. But we have a duty to the club, as players and coaching staff, and certainly a duty to the fans who witnessed the 4-0 defeat to Dundee United and who will be behind that goal at Easter Road giving us the backing they always do, to repay their loyalty and faith."

Frail had praise yesterday for the work of Collins since succeeding Mowbray at Hibs, but insists Hearts retain players who can be more than a match for their in-form rivals.

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"He [Collins] has done very well so far," said Frail. "He inherited a good side. They have a lot of good players, pass the ball and are a good team to watch. But contrary to reports, we also have good players and it's up to us to make sure they play to their full capacity on Sunday. Hibs have just won the cup, but we need to forget that and just go out for three points, for our supporters and to keep up the challenge for third place and Europe.

"Mathematically it is still there, but I'd be silly to say we are going to get second spot. We will keep fighting and if we get third spot, then that's how it is. We can't give up on anything. We don't want to throw the towel in and say 'ach well, we'll just finish fourth which is alright because of the turmoil which has seemingly happened at the club'. Fourth is not a good finish for us, we need to be second or third."