Hibs fan John Hughes knows players must let their heads rule Hearts

AS A LOCAL lad and Hibs fan, John Hughes knows what today's derby means to the supporters of the Leith club. He has played in them, been a spectator at derbies aplenty, and now he has the chance to beat Hearts as manager for the first time, following the 1-1 draw at Tynecastle in November, writes Martin Hannan.

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For this, his first home match in charge against Hearts, Hughes is demanding a mixture of passion and savvy from his men if they are to beat their great rivals.

"The most important thing is that we play with our emotions in check," said Hughes. "If we do that and pass the ball like we can for 90 minutes, the three points will be staying at Easter Road.

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"My experience of being in a derby tells me that you are at your best when you have your football head on.

"You have to make the right decisions. Anyone can put a jersey on and run about like a lunatic but we're better than that.

"If it's to be no quarter asked or given, then we have to make sure we stand up to that as well, but I'll be saying to my players let's go and play our style of football, let's get at them."

Against Hearts and possibly for the rest of this month, Hibs will be without Sol Bamba, who is on duty for the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations.

"He has been massive for us, pivotal to everything we have done," said Hughes. "He has filled the void left by Rob Jones. He is a great athlete and I love his passion, that he wears his heart on his sleeve."

Hughes is not worried about the constant speculation that Bamba will be snapped up by a richer club when they see him perform at international level: "You go to the African Nations Cup and the World Cup and you are on the stage, and if Sol Bamba can go away from here and become a millionaire overnight then that's great.

"If Sol goes out against Rangers and becomes man of the match to show them that he is good enough to play for them as he did, then I would want 11 players like that."

Hughes has spent the week talking up his players after the battering from Rangers, and Antony Stokes came in for particular praise: "He scores goals – good, bad or indifferent, he is still capable of scoring goals.

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"He needs to start taking a bit of responsibility, but he is great to work with and sometimes on the training pitch he scores goals that take your breath away.

"It's not just him. Derek Riordan, Benji, Zemmama – I'm just fortunate that I have got them at my disposal."

Yves Ma-Kalambay continues to give Hughes the impression that he could be a good goalkeeper, but only if he improves his concentration and decision-making. With Graham Stack fit again, it's likely that the African will make way for the English-born Republic of Ireland under-21 internationalist between the sticks today, though the signing of former Motherwell goalkeeper Graeme Smith gives Hughes another option.

Ma-Kalambay and the squad's young goalkeeper Thomas Flynn can take comfort from Hughes's attitude that more entrances do not necessarily mean exits.

"When Stacky came to the club it was not a case of putting another goalkeeper out the door, but a case of adding him," said Hughes. "I knew Stacky and had been chasing him at Falkirk but could never get him. I thought that I needed to bring in a 'seven out of ten' every week goalkeeper, but I have challenged Stacky as well to make it 'nine out of ten' every week. That's what Alan McGregor does at Rangers, so why not?"

It's a statement made with the head not the heart. Hughes will want to see that attitude from his men today.