|Scottish Premiership: Hibernian v Heart of Midlothian|
|Venue: Easter Road Date: Sunday, 22 September Kick-off: 15:00 BST|
|Coverage: Listen to BBC Radio Scotland and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport Scotland website & app|
Derby day in Edinburgh is always fraught, but Sunday’s meeting at Easter Road carries even greater anxiety than usual.
Hibernian, meek and flailing after a bright start to life under Paul Heckingbottom, have not won a Premiership game since the opening weekend. Heckingbottom’s raft of summer signings has made little impact and pressure is mounting on the head coach.
Things are worse in Gorgie. Hearts sit bottom of the league, winless in 12 top-flight matches with fans baying for the dismissal of Craig Levein. The manager retains the public backing of owner Ann Budge but sating the irate supporters will be extremely tough.
This will be a clash of consequence for each boss; the heat could rise or cool depending on who prevails.
Here, four veterans of this huge fixture shed a light on the magnitude, the emotions and the tumult of the battle to be crowned kings of Scotland’s capital.
‘Our bus got bricked that night’
In October 2013, Hearts were bottom of the table with a callow squad. They started the season on minus 15 points as punishment for entering administration and were rank outsiders to knock Hibs out of the League Cup at Easter Road.
Ryan Stevenson was one of Hearts’ remaining senior players. That day, he lashed in the glorious winner in a 1-0 victory. Hibs had James McPake sent off and the bad feeling spilled over, home fans waiting to confront Hibs boss Pat Fenlon, who left his post two days later.
“Our bus got bricked that night. The side window had been put in when we came out so we had to get escorted away,” Stevenson recalls. “It gives you a wee bit more motivation for the next one.
“I understood my record as well: ‘I’ve not lost here in so many games, I’m definitely not losing this one’. It just kept propelling us. We just knew how to win derbies, we even knew how to draw games with Hibs when we weren’t playing well.”
Stevenson played in 15 derbies between 2010 and 2014, losing only three. Hearts bossed the fixture in those days. When Stevenson arrived, the management team of Jim Jefferies, Billy Brown and Gary Locke hammered its importance into their players.
“We would get on the bus to the stadium and they were playing videos of all the Hearts goals in the derbies, Hearts wins, the Hearts songs playing – you were going to war, basically. It was made clear to you how much it meant to the fans; losing was never an option,” Stevenson says.
“Even the year we got relegated in 2014, I remember when Hibs were coming to Tynecastle knowing a win would relegate us and it was all about how they were coming for a party. The amount of pressure on the young Hearts boys to not get relegated by Hibs.
“I remember going into the changing room and we were all relishing it. We never, ever thought, ‘Here we go, we could get relegated today’. It was always just, ‘Aye, we’ll show them’ and we won 2-0.
“In my time at Hearts, we felt Hibs were a bit soft. They had very good players but we had a core of men. Marius Zaliukas, Rudi Skacel, Andy Webster, all boys I would look up to if the games weren’t going as well as we’d hoped. Whether they’ve got that now… they’re sitting bottom of the league, so I think that tells you.”
What’s the upshot for the loser?
Ian Murray is a lifelong Hibs fan. He played for and captained the club during two spells, making over 250 appearances. Now managing Airdrieonians after stints in charge of Dumbarton and St Mirren, he rejects any suggestion that Sunday’s losing boss could also find themselves out of a job.
“All the noise is coming out of media and fans to an extent, but I don’t think it’s quite as critical as it’s being made out to be,” he says.
Murray resigned as St Mirren manager after just six months at the helm in December 2015 amid a poor run of form. The final straw was a 1-0 defeat by his previous club. The former defender says the fates of Heckingbottom and Levein will not hinge on a single game, but each boss will know if the time is right to walk.
“The general feel around the place wasn’t great, maybe like the situation at Hibs and Hearts,” Murray recalls. “You just get a feeling that you know what, it’s gone too far, nobody’s enjoying it, not just the supporters, but the coaching staff are thinking, is it really worth going through all this?
“That could be the case on Sunday night, but I just don’t see that happening.”
What about the glory?
Kevin Kyle loved his two years at Tynecastle. The towering striker rattled home an 86th-minute derby winner at Tynecastle on New Year’s day in 2011, etching himself into Hearts folklore.
“When I signed, I didn’t know what it would be like,” he says. “When I arrived and experienced it, I realised it’s a massive club. The fans have big expectations and it can be too much for some of the players.
“Eight years down the line, every time I go to Edinburgh somebody knows me or says, ‘There’s the big man, scored in a New Year derby against Hibs’.
“It’s only one goal but I’m a cult hero because of that. I appreciate that, it’s absolutely magic. That day I did the man-of-the-match speech, jumped in the car and went home and had a Chinese with the missus. Now I think, ‘Why didn’t I go out in Edinburgh that night and milk it?'”
Should Heckingbottom ‘do it the Hibs way’?
John Hughes was a colossus at the back for Hibernian, ferociously proud of his Leith heritage. He captained Hibs to a famous 3-0 triumph at Tynecastle in the “millennium derby” of 1999 but never beat Hearts in four attempts as manager at Easter Road.
“We were all football, football, football,” he says of the team he led for just over a year from 2009. “It was like two boxers – if they want to come out swinging, we’ll just dance around them. That was our whole philosophy. But sometimes in a derby you have to change it.
“Defensively, Hibs are going to have to stand up to the physical challenge. That worries me. You know what you’re getting from Hearts. You know it’ll get battered right at you and you have to stand up to it. If Heckingbottom wants to go more total football, he’s got the technical players to do that on the big pitch at Easter Road.
“If it works, and you get the victory, that’s doing it the Hibs way. That’s magnificent.”