As Hibs and Hearts prepare for the first Edinburgh derby of the season, the moods inside Edinburgh’s two biggest clubs could hardly be of a starker contrast. The ignominy bequeathed by the excruciating 1-5 defeat against Hearts in May’s Scottish Cup final has cast a dark shadow over Hibs and will be a perpetual source of hurt for supporters until a cathartic moment is delivered. Conversely, victory for Hearts precipitated a summer of prideful content and the anticipation felt ahead of a Europa League qualifier against Liverpool has supporters wearing wide grins.
Hibs are without a win in the fixture for over three years – the last coming courtesy of a Derek Riordan penalty in a 0-1 win at Tynecastle on May 7th 2009. Since then, Hearts have won eight – including all three league games and the Cup Final last season – and there have been three draws. It is hardly surprising, then, that the bookmakers have made Hearts favourites despite Hibs’ home advantage on Sunday.
Hearts’ recent dominance has fostered a confidence and air of expectancy among the club’s fans which has worked its way onto the pitch in recent seasons; Moreover, the inferiority imposed upon Hibs by their city rivals has infiltrated the Easter Road dressing room and support. Hearts have subsequently been placed up on a pedestal from which 11 Hibs sides and three managers have been unable to knock them off.
Hibs are inhibited by the paradox that only a victory can disrupt the status quo of Hearts dominance, yet that victory has eluded them due to the psychological effect of the status quo. Sooner or later, though, something surely has to give.
Hibs’ starting 11 is likely to feature five new faces: Ben Williams, Tim Clancy, Paul Cairney, Gary Deegan, and former Hearts defender Alan Maybury. Those signings will be determined to make their first Edinburgh derby – the first on the opposite side for Maybury – an experience to remember rather than forget.
Hearts will be without club icon and scorer of a brace in the Cup final, Rudi Skacel, after the Czech midfielder left the club upon the expiration of his contract. Ian Black and Craig Beattie were among other departures from Tynecastle over the summer.
The club has sought to compensate for the loss of these players by bringing through youth players, a job which has been placed on the shoulders of new manager, John McGlynn. Despite the loss of key players and the change in management, those of a maroon persuasion remain confident of leaving Leith with three points secured come Sunday afternoon.
The image of Rudi Skacel celebrating one of his Cup Final goals is a vivid one in the minds of both sets of supporters, for very different reasons. This image was draped across a billboard outside Easter Road Stadium this week before being summarily defaced and subsequently removed by advertising vendors. The incident has intensified locals’ disdain for their city neighbours. With Hearts supporters bringing their Cup Final celebrations to Easter Road there will be a fervent atmosphere in the stands on Sunday.
In the absence of Old Firm games, Hibs against Hearts has become the biggest game in Scottish football. May’s Hampden meeting is evidence that the Edinburgh clubs have the potential to deliver a spectacle of proportions comparable to Old Firm games; however, it remains to be seen whether this can be replicated on occasions of less grandeur. More significant for supporters of the capital clubs is whether Hibs can begin to remedy the pain caused by the Cup Final defeat or whether Hearts can extend their reign of dominance. At full-time on Sunday, these latter questions will be answered; and we may also have an indication on the former.