MANY inside Easter Road on Monday had an inkling Hearts would win the New Year Edinburgh derby before a ball was kicked. John Colquhoun was one of them. He detects a sense of superiority within the Tynecastle camp as another imperious run against Hibs gains momentum. It is a feeling he remembers well.
Hearts’ derby dominance is building into a juggernaut and Colquhoun is enjoying the ride along with thousands of Jambos. They are now at nine consecutive matches without defeat against their greatest rivals, evoking memories of previous unbeaten periods during Colquhoun’s halcyon days as a player.
The winger featured in nine of Hearts’ 17-game unbeaten run against Hibs between September 1983 and August 1987. Unsated by that surfeit of success, he then played in 14 of the famous 22-match undefeated sequence from April 1989 to April 1994. It would be fair to say he is rather fond of the Edinburgh derby.
Taking his seat in the directors’ box at Easter Road on Monday afternoon, Colquhoun harboured a definite notion that Hearts would prevail once again. As a football agent he knows the game has altered dramatically in the 20 years since he was putting Hibs to the sword. Different eras, but the mentality he thrived on in Capital derbies has returned with a vengeance at Tynecastle.
“I was speaking to a lot of people before Monday’s game and after it,” said Colquhoun, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“All the Hibs people I spoke to had effectively accepted they were going to lose. That in itself lifts the pressure from Hearts because they can play with a bit more freedom.
“There are very few better feelings than going into training the day after winning a derby. It’s such a great feeling having beaten Hibs and pleased the supporters for a few weeks, because you know they place so much importance on it. Then you carry that feeling into the next derby, and so on.
“You get to the stage where it doesn’t matter how well or badly you play, or how well or badly Hibs play, you always have the feeling you’re going to win.
“For 20 minutes at the start of the second half the other day, Hibs had the momentum. They started on the front foot after half-time but, ultimately, you always had it in the back of your mind that Hearts were stronger and were going to nick a goal. That mentality is the same as it was in a lot of the games we played during the 22-game run.
“Hearts have got some confidence over the last four or five games, built on a strong defence and good discipline. I thought Ian Black was terrific on Monday. He kept his discipline and I thought he ran the game for long spells. That was the key for Hearts. The back four looks solid, they are physically strong and they have players who can win games for them.”
Colquhoun was himself a derby match-winner on many occasions. “We were in such a strong position back then, we even had Wayne Foster scoring the winner for us in one game. That tells you about his mentality,” he joked, in reference to the Scottish Cup fourth round tie at Easter Road in February 1994. “You get into that rhythm where you just think you’re going to win when you play Hibs.”
Conversely, morale at Easter Road is evidently low. The stadium was a notably solemn place for much of Monday afternoon as the New Year Edinburgh derby was played out in front of a crowd of just 15,013. Hibs are fighting relegation and are yet to win under new manager Pat Fenlon. They would be forgiven for dreading the next encounter with Hearts at Tynecastle in March.
“There is a confidence within Hearts which is obviously lacking in Hibs because of the situation Hibs are in,” continued Colquhoun. “They are losing games and there’s a fragility about them. It’s understandable. To be honest, there’s always going to be a fragility about a team with so many young players. When you looked out at that Hibs team taking the field against Hearts, it was so young.
“When you’re on a run where you’re finding it difficult to get results, and you go into a derby where your opponents are strong and have been winning, it’s a tall order for young players to dig results out. That’s what you need to do in derbies is dig results out.
“Hibs do have some very good young players but they are lacking confidence and it’s a problem week in and week out. Long-term I think they’ll be fine, but short-term there are concerns for everyone at the club.”
For Colquhoun, there is one slight worry over Hearts’ ongoing derby domination, albeit a welcome one if they continue to hold command over their city rivals. Colquhoun remembers the pressure increasing on the Tynecastle squad with every derby Hibs failed to win back in the 1980s and 1990s. The desire to maintain the unbeaten run grew stronger and resulted in a bizarre tension for the players.
“It does in a strange way become a little bit of a monkey on your back,” he said. “You don’t want to be the Hearts team that loses the record and breaks the run, so it becomes a double-edged sword at some point.
“I don’t think we’re at that point now. Maybe if this run was to get to 15, 16, 17 games, people would be looking at the run we went on in the 80s and 90s and asking if the current team can emulate it. That brings a different kind of pressure and you become a hostage to your own success in effect. But it’s a nice pressure, a great situation to be in.”
The current Hearts players are still some way short of the records set by Colquhoun and Co. But if their celebrations at full-time on Monday are anything to go by, they will test Hibs’ resolve over the coming years by attempting to better the feats of their predecessors.