Jim Jefferies still in his element in the derby, says Darren Jackson

WHEN it comes to knowing the Edinburgh derby terrain first hand, Darren Jackson is the football equivalent of a cartographer.

He played for, captained and scored for both sides in the fixture. He was one of the exhaling-deeply Hibernian players who brought an end to 22-game winless sequence for the Leith club in the capital confrontation back in August 1994. Six years later, he was in maroon, but no doubt wishing the jersey had remained under a tracksuit, as he appeared as a substitute in Hibs' 6-2 drubbing that stands as the biggest derby doing they have dished out in nearly 40 years.

Within half a season, though, he helped the Gorgie side exact revenge with a 2-1 final-day victory at Tynecastle that allowed Hearts to pip their ancient adversaries for a European place in May 2000.

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Of those historic encounters, the last contains the closest parallels with the city skirmish that will be played out on Saturday at Easter Road. Alright, we aren't talking a rerun, but for Hibs Europe could again be on the line. If they fail to improve on their dismal form of two wins from their last 15, they will face the very real possibility of ending a hugely promising season in fifth place behind Motherwell – and so be left hoping Dundee United win the Scottish Cup to provide them entry to the Europa League qualifiers. Hearts can be the side that help see them pipped, but not in themselves the pippers, with Jefferies side appearing certs for sixth place.

Jackson is well aware of the subtexts. With derbies, however, he believes you have to deal in principal plotlines. "Even if it might mean more to Hibs in terms of getting points on the board to get up the league, it will mean as much to Jim Jefferies as anyone," he said. "You saw what he was like after the last Edinburgh derby which he won. He was thinking: 'Brilliant, I'm back here, this is why I came back to Hearts'.

"The way it looks, Hibs need Europe after the way they started the season. So they have their incentive. Stopping them getting there might be seen as Hearts' incentive. But just winning the game, that's enough for either."

Jackson described himself as a "massive fan of John Hughes and Brian Rice". He accepts the need for a favourable outcome in this "last chance" to make up for disappointing displays in the previous three, which brought two draws as well as the Tynecastle defeat. However, he doesn't feel it will be a disappointing season for Hibs even if they lose.

"It was hard to maintain the consistency throughout the season that Hibs had early on," said Jackson. "They went to Celtic Park at the end of January and won and everyone was talking about them getting second place and splitting the Old Firm. That changed expectations, and that's a huge thing.

"No-one inside Easter Road said they would split the Old Firm. In the press it was said again and again, and the fans started to believe it. When results started to go bad, it was doom and gloom, but it's not. Yogi would say Rome wasn't built in a day. He has to be allowed to build a team over two or three years and then he might be able to challenge the Old Firm. Whatever happens I don't think the season could be judged a disappointment for Hibs. You can't go from a middling position to the top level in an instant."

Jackson, though, may have been able to do so when he moved from Hibs to Celtic in 1997. In as much as he believes, following his Tayside derby experiences with Dundee United and his regular exposure to the Edinburgh version, it allowed him to sample the daddy derby of them all.

"The Old Firm, for me, is the greatest game in the world," he claimed, these two tribes set to play out that relative rarity, a meaningless, post-title tussle, next Tuesday. "I have been to Barcelona against Real Madrid. It was great, of course. But there were only 300 Madrid supporters and the atmosphere was nothing like what you'd experience in Glasgow."

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His experiences in Edinburgh told him that these fraught fixtures mean every bit as much to those who watch them as any west-coast match-up. The fact he has seen them from both sides, though, leave him insisting that his loyalties "don't lie anywhere" when it comes to the opposing camps.

"I had five fantastic years at Hibs and a great year-and-a-half at Hearts after I left Celtic, which was good because it was a real blow to leave there after a year and a half. It was brilliant at Tynecastle because we were bottom of the league when I arrived and ended up finishing sixth, and the next year qualified for Europe. But I just always hope they are good games."

Wow, Jackson really isn't partisan. For no-one with an interest gives a hoot about quality. There is no honour whatsoever in losing a derby stylishly.