London Hearts Supporters Club

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John Robertson <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> John Rowbotham
[G O'Connor 68] ;[D Shiels 73]
4 of 018 Lee Miller 39 L SPL H

Capital derby can point the way to Europe


THERE will be no Edinburgh final in this season’s Scottish Cup, but Hearts and Hibs still have two massive head-to-heads to come. As both sides are assured of a place in the top six, tonight’s match at Tynecastle will be followed by a fourth meeting of the season, at Easter Road, and between them those games could determine which of the sides, if either, takes the one remaining place in Europe.

Hibs have the whip-hand. A point ahead of fourth-placed Aberdeen having played a game less, and five in front of Hearts, Tony Mowbray’s side will go some way to eliminating their capital rivals from the race if they manage a draw tonight.

Acknowledging that, a more cautious, expedient manager - a Craig Levein, say - would name a team and adopt an approach designed not to lose.

But so far in his reign at Easter Road, Mowbray has shown himself to be more of an idealist than a realist, a man who will adhere to his footballing philosophy and willingly suffer the consequences.

Such an attitude may be refreshing in the compromised, grubby world of the SPL, but it is one some Hibs fans would gladly abandon right now. Being more concerned with finishing ahead of Hearts at the end of the season than with getting three points tonight, they would happily settle for a team which, just this once, forgot about the flair, rolled up its sleeves, and ground out a draw.

Hearts, who won the season’s previous Tynecastle clash more comfortably than the 2-1 score might indicate, would not be completely ruled out of the race for Europe by a draw. They are, however, determined to reclaim the third place in which they finished last term and the one before, and have looked in better fettle in recent weeks.

They should be even more dangerous when Saulius Mikoliunas returns from suspension at the weekend, but the Lithuanian’s compatriots, Deividas Cesnauskis and Marius Kizys, have gone some way towards compensating for his absence. Cesnauskis surely did enough in the second half of Sunday’s cup semi-final to merit starting this evening’s match, but Kizys may still begin on the bench, being deemed to be too similar to Paul Hartley.

Whatever his line-up, John Robertson is convinced his team will respond after the loss to Celtic at Hampden. The coach said yesterday: "There was obviously disappointment after Sunday’s result, but it’s wiped out because now we have a massive Edinburgh derby.

"Everybody is looking forward to it, training has been very brisk the last couple of days, to say the least, and we’ll be ready. With seven games still to go there is a lot of football still to be played and a lot of points to be won. You look at a lot of other leagues in Europe and it’s all done and dusted by now, so we should be grateful that a lot of teams have a lot to play for.

"I don’t want to say it’s a must-win, but certainly we can’t afford to lose it. It would be a huge step for either club to take three points.

"If Hibs were to win then they would be strong, strong favourites [for third place] going into the last six matches. The onus is on us to have a real go. But in an Edinburgh derby that’s what both teams do anyway."

Mowbray, having a less experienced squad, is not so sure of how they will react to their own defeat by Dundee United a day earlier. Hibs have remained buoyant for most of the season, but there are still doubts about how positively they can respond on the big occasion. Losing to United after going a goal up was a significant blow and Mowbray will have his work cut out to restore the confidence of his younger players in time.

"We have had a decent season, but we’ve had a few knocks along the way and Saturday was probably our biggest knock this season," Mowbray said. "After the initial disappointment footballers have to step up to the mark and get it out their system. I am hoping for a positive reaction and display."

Hearts failed to turn up for the first half of their semi-final yet still ran Celtic close, and so were probably less depressed than Hibs after their own loss to bottom-of-the-league United. Off-field controversies apart, Hearts have been more free of upheaval this past month than they have been all season and, at their best, they are a well-balanced and incisive outfit.

Robertson will decide this morning whether to include Robbie Neilson, who has made a rapid recovery from the ankle knock sustained against Celtic on Sunday. If Neilson is passed fit he will take his usual place on the right of the back four; if he does not make it, Jamie McAllister will replace him.

Mowbray’s main concern is how to replace David Murphy, his injured left-back. He could play Stephen Glass there as part of a back four, as he did when Murphy limped off hurt on Saturday. With Ian Murray available again, however, it is more probable that Glass will be retained in midfield, where he has been playing well recently, while Murray, who is more versatile and has greater defensive experience, will be asked to fill in at left-back.

Less plausibly, both those players could begin the match in the back four, Murray at centre-back alongside Gary Smith, and Glass at left-back. With Steven Whittaker at right-back, Gary Caldwell would then be free to move forward to the holding midfield role.

Such a formation would be the most likely to prise a point from the game. Mowbray, however, remains of the school of thought that the best way of getting one point from a match is to go out in pursuit of all three - and the more fervently Hibs undertake that pursuit, the more probable a home victory will become.

Taken from the Scotsman

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