The Edinburgh derby makes a welcome return to the Scottish Premiership on Sunday and it couldn’t be set up any better.
Both teams on 10 points, both unbeaten, Hibernian going into the weekend top of the table, but only above their hosts on goal difference.
Not only is this fixture back but so are the fans. Sorely missed when the game was on tour in Glasgow in October but now Tynecastle Park will be full of noise. It’s always one of the best atmospheres in the country, especially for this fixture and while other big games in Scotland lack that big travelling support, Hibernian will have 3,500 inside the stadium to add to the occasion.
Sunday 12th September 11:00am
Kick off 12:00pm
Moving in the right direction
Hearts are now the UK’s largest fan-owned club after the Foundation of Hearts finalised the transfer of shares with chairwoman Ann Budge at the end of August. Budge saved the club in 2013 after the reign of previous owner Vladimir Romanov brought the club to its knees.
Not only that, she did what some said couldn’t be done and others only talked about and that was building a new main stand and securing the clubs’ future at Tynecastle Park in Edinburgh.
They also have the business experience of James Anderson now on the board as an independent director. Anderson gave generously to Scottish football to help clubs through the COVID-19 pandemic.
With American Ron Gordon having ambitious plans across the city, both clubs have the stability required to make sure they challenge at the right end of the table.
From despair to delight
The setting of Sunday’s match is in stark contrast to the first meeting between the sides during the 2019/20 season. Both managers were under pressure, both teams were languishing at the wrong end of the league and both sets of fans were not happy.
Craig Levein and Paul Heckingbottom did depart with six weeks of that fixture but that was just the start of a journey for the clubs.
Hibernian appointed Jack Ross as Heckingbottom’s successor, a former Hearts youth coach, before spells in charge of Alloa, St Mirren and Sunderland. Hearts went for Daniel Stendel, the former Barnsley boss.
Whilst Hearts continued to flatline at the bottom of the table, Hibernian gradually picked up and beat their rivals on Boxing Day at Tynecastle Park.
The Jambos – albeit stranded at the foot of the Premiership – did remind their fans what they were capable of by beating Rangers twice at home including in a crucial Scottish Cup match. Not only that, just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the early calling of the season, Stendel’s men won at Easter Road 3-1 thanks to a convincing second-half display. However, it was not enough to save Hearts from relegation with just 30 games played.
The capital clubs were still due to play each other in the 2020 Scottish Cup semi-final – a tie that would be postponed until the following season due to the pandemic – with the rivals facing off a division apart inside an empty Hampden Park.
By this point, Hearts brought back two players key to victory in the 2006 semi-final against Hibernian in Glasgow. Robbie Neilson returned for a second spell as head coach while ‘keeper Craig Gordon rejected a new deal at Celtic to play for his boyhood heroes again.
The Edinburgh derby is one of the oldest rivalries in world football but on the day of that semi-final in October 2021, the death of Edinburgh’s most famous son was announced. Sir Sean Connery passed away aged 90, fitting then that the James Bond theme was played at the National Stadium as the teams emerged.
On the pitch, just as Hibernian did in 2016 and 2017 as a lower league club, Hearts would win this one thanks to Liam Boyce’s extra-time penalty and set up a final with Celtic for the second consecutive year.
Despite a difficult first half in the final, Hearts came so close to stopping Celtic achieve the quadruple treble and even led in the shootout at one stage.
Hibernian also reached the Scottish Cup final last season but found there was no way of stopping St Johnstone on their way to a historic cup double. Defeat for both clubs but a clear sign of how far they’ve come in a short space of time.
And so, to this intriguing encounter after managerial changes, cup finals, promotion back to the Premiership for Hearts, and a third-place finish for Hibs.
Does home advantage count?
Fortune used to favour the home team heavily, but the away team is unbeaten in the last seven league fixtures.
Hibernian have now won two in a row at Tynecastle Park, the last time they won a hat-trick of games in succession there was between 1971 and 1973, the last of which was a 0-7 hammering of the rivals.
What the managers said
Robbie Neilson has been named Premiership manager of the month for August after a fine start to the season.
However, he admits that will count for very little if they don’t show up on Sunday.
He said: “It’s been a good start but what’s happened in the last six weeks doesn’t really matter. It’s all about what happens when it kicks off on Sunday. We need to find a way to win the game.
“It doesn’t matter how you win it, it’s about winning a derby. It’s so important for the fanbase, the club and also for the players and their league position.
“It’ll be 200 miles an hour. It’s about being up for that battle at the start and then having the composure to go and play. We’ve got a number of boys that have played in it or played in Dundee or Glasgow derbies so I expect us to be ready for it.”
Ross meanwhile says beating their rivals can prove significant in helping his Hibernian side mount a title challenge.
“It’s a special fixture in the Scottish football calendar and the fact there are fans back, makes it even more special,” the Hibs boss told Sky Sports News.
“It will be a terrific atmosphere on Sunday, and I’m very much looking forward to it and I think the fact that both teams have enjoyed such a good start to the season adds that extra spice to it as well.
“Hearts have continued their momentum from gaining promotion last season, and we’ve carried on a lot of good work we did last season.
“It’s not going to define anyone’s season losing the match, but we understand the significance of it in isolation, and understand the importance of where it can continue to keep us in the table.
“We’ve been top this season, we want to stay in that position and if we win on Sunday we can do that.”
The key men to watch
Transfer deadline day didn’t prove as fruitful as Ross would have wanted. St Mirren’s Jamie McGrath was top of his target list but the failure to capture the Ireland international means he will have to rely on what he has got at his disposal.
With Christain Doidge injured, Hibernian will rely on Kevin Nisbet and James Scott for goals but fans believe Martin Boyle will be their biggest threat.
The Australian international has scored in all four Premiership games this season and was also on target with both goals in the last Tynecastle Park meeting between the sides.
At the back, Paul Hanlon has been missing for nearly a month after picking up a head knock against Ross County. Darren McGregor has come in alongside Ryan Porteous, who will need to be ready for what Hearts throw at them. Cross balls have become an issue for Hibernian, with eight of the 10 goals conceded this season, coming from crosses.
For the hosts, Liam Boyce has scored in his last four Hearts appearances and is key for Robbie Neilson.
However, it is another player in the squad that seems to come to the fore against Hibernian. Nobody has scored more in Scotland’s top league against Hibernian since 2011 than Gary Mackay-Steven.
His eight goals for Dundee United and Aberdeen show he means business against the team in green. Hearts have also added former Rangers winger Barrie McKay despite interest from Hibernian, so they have already set an early marker.
Scotland’s champions will gain automatic entry to next season’s Champions League. You need to go back 50 years to find the last time an Edinburgh club won the title. Whoever wins this weekend will go top of the table although hosting some of Europe’s elite next season is still a long way away.
This content was originally published here.