T he Edinburgh derby is anything but a meaningless fixture in the football calendar – whatever stage of the season it is contested at. Supporters of both clubs savour the intense rivalry that exists between the two sides and that was plain to see in yesterday’s encounter at Tynecastle.
I was speaking to an ex-pro just the other day about the experience of playing in a derby reserve match and the crowds those particular games used to attract. It just shows the magnitude of these fixtures, whatever the level, and how much we would all like to see a return of reserve team derbies in the foreseeable future.
For the manager to blood so many youngsters in his starting XI for such a pulsating encounter was a bold move, but one that paid off. Pat Fenlon was perhaps forced into a couple of changes as some of the more experienced players of the squad were unable to take their place due to injury. However, credit must go to the youngsters who certainly stepped up to the mark. The way in which they adjusted to the occasion in what is such an intimidating venue at the best of times is hugely encouraging. Any win in a derby is enormously satisfying for the club, but it was yesterday’s performance that was most pleasing on the eye. From start to finish we displayed good attack-minded football that maybe took our opponents by surprise as we have tended to be a little naive in previous derbies.
Encounters between the sides this season have been fairly dull if I am being honest, but yesterday was certainly a vast improvement. There was a freshness and fluency that has been posted missing in the previous four encounters. Aside from the terrific victory that cannot be underestimated by any means, Hibs played with great composure and looked in complete control at times. We looked a threat whenever we moved the ball around in the final third and with Alex Harris, Ross Caldwell and Leigh Griffiths, we carried a goal threat that the Hearts defence failed to cope with.
Since the manager has called for his players to provide him with a selection headache ahead of the Cup final against Celtic, it would appear the younger ones of the squad are starting to stake their claim. There can be no better boost to morale than a victory over your local rivals away from home, especially with so many individuals making their derby debuts.
Supporters part with their hard-earned cash for season tickets to see a winning side on the park, but also appreciate being entertained in the process. In young Harris, we possess a player with such ability who has already shown his courage to attack his opponents whenever possible and has undoubtedly been a breath of fresh air to the current Hibs side. With a few other additions now beginning to make an impression in the first team, the future is beginning to look that little more rosy. However, it is a process that will take time and we must be patient as their careers develop.
When looking around the league in recent fixtures, I have noticed a number of other individuals beginning to emerge within our game and these players must be given more game time when the new season arrives in August. If the prospects on show can fulfil their potential then we are on the right track.
Turning our attention to super Leigh, what is left to be said about a player who continues to produce week in, week out? He could not have picked a better occasion to score his 100th club goal of his career where you could see by the celebrations exactly what this strike meant to him. His wonderful free-kick to draw us level typifies what this young man is all about and on any given day, he is capable of producing goals that are simply world-class. He is an asset in our side who is simply irreplaceable and I hope we see him back in the green and white of Hibernian beyond our date with destiny in just under two-weeks’ time.