Fans locked outside Oriam, peering through windows and sneaking glimpses of action through holes in a wall. The appetite for Edinburgh derbies remains strong judging by the turnout for Monday’s Under-20 meeting between Hearts and Hibs at Riccarton.
Thankfully, the real thing is back next season. Hibs ended three years in the Championship by clinching promotion last month – reinstating at least three Capital derbies to the Premiership fixture list. It has been a long wait. Anyone who spent Bank Holiday Monday at Riccarton could testify just how long.
More than 500 people crammed into Oriam’s indoor arena to see Hearts and Hibs youth teams contest the final game of the SPFL Development League. The rest were locked out by stewards once the venue reached capacity just before the 1.30pm kick-off.
Some stayed outside to look in through glass windows, others stuck heads into holes in a wall behind one of the goals to satisfy their Edinburgh derby craving. It was a match fans were clearly desperate to witness, making it easy to forget it was still nothing more than a youth game.
Hearts won 3-1 with goals from Sam Nicholson and Alistair Roy and a Rory Currie penalty sandwiched in between. Hibs’ Fraser Murray reduced the deficit to 2-1 before Roy’s classy strike settled the contest.
There were late tackles, rammies amongst players and even heated exchanges in the crowd – all the central ingredients for a good Edinburgh derby. In fact, things threatened to get out of control on 77 minutes when one fan shouted for Hearts’ Lewis Moore to be punished for shoving, and referee Stewart Luke duly obliged with a yellow card.
Once the crowd dispersed and calmness returned, the lingering feeling was that the Edinburgh derby reappearing in Scotland’s top flight will fill a void in the lives of many supporters.
“I noticed during the game the that people were behind the goals, outside the windows and there were heads popping through the little holes in the wall,” said Jon Daly, the Hearts youth coach. “It was obviously difficult to accommodate everyone. It’s not a massive seating area. I think it holds about 500 people. It shows you the magnitude of the fixture and the hunger for this fixture between the two Edinburgh clubs. It’s good to see Hibs back in the Premiership next year so we can all look forward to Edinburgh derbies at first-team level again.
“I was delighted for all the players on Monday. You can see how much it means to everyone in Edinburgh when the game gets flipped from the outdoor astroturf to the indoor pitch. Even though it’s an under-20 fixture, it always draws a decent crowd and I thought our players responded well to that.”
Hibs hold the upper hand over their city neighbours at senior level having knocked them out of the Scottish Cup in each of the last two years. Indeed, Hearts haven’t triumphed in any of the last seven derby encounters. You must go back to August 2014 for their last success against Hibs.
Daly hopes some of his young charges could help redress the balance given an opportunity. Moore’s progress has accelerated this season due to a loan spell at Cowdenbeath, whilst Roy is thriving at Stenhousemuir. Canadian attcker Dario Zanatta has also enjoyed game time at Queen’s Park.
Development loans allowing youngsters to join lower-league senior teams and still play under-20 matches for their parent clubs help ease the route to the first team. Hearts and Hibs are taking full advantage.
“Hopefully, some of them can push towards the first-team squad,” continued Daly. “You can see a big difference in the ones who have been on loan. Ali Roy, Lewis Moore and Dario Zanatta have all been on loan and you can see a big change in their development.
“And the young boys Hibs have had out on loan, like Oli Shaw [at Stenhousemuir] and Ryan Porteous [at Edinburgh City], you see the progress they’ve made. Going out and playing men’s football does stand them in good stead when they come back into under-20 matches.”
Moore is one who has seized his opportunity. The winger is still only 18 but tormented Hibs on both flanks on Monday afternoon. “Lewis can play on the left or on the right, but generally he’s better on the left,” said Daly. “He causes problems, he’s very direct and his work-rate is exceptional. He was one of a few who stood out on Monday. His ball for Sam’s goal was outstanding. I thought he was starting to look a bit tired, that’s why I took him off towards the end.
“It’s no surprise he was starting to look tired when he’d put in that amount of work during the game.
“We also had young Chrissy Hamilton [aged 15] playing in there at centre-back beside Leon Jones and I thought he was excellent for us. It was a big game for him to be involved in, so I was delighted with the players’ performance. It was a good result for us and a good way to finish off the season.
“The boys played really well and I thought we were quite dominant throughout. Sometimes you can cause yourself problems with slack passing or a poor touch or poor decisions in certain areas of the pitch. We’re never going to play the perfect game, you’re always going to make a few mistakes. It’s about how you react. I thought we reacted very well.”