Edinburgh’s streets have a tension about them right now, which only occurs four or five times a year. It’s called derby week, when passions run high and supporters of Hearts and Hibs revel in the hype surrounding the city’s biggest football match.
Dylan McGowan knows it well and generally can’t get enough of it. “It’s often a little bit more tense. In the street, you get stopped and told that you have to win at the weekend,” he says, grinning. “If you have won, it’s always a bit more pleasant when you do get noticed in the street. When we don’t win, I’m often the one wearing a hat so no-one recognises me.”
The hat has only been out of the drawer once, to be fair. McGowan boasts an impressive record in derbies, having lost only one of his five so far. This mirrors Hearts’ collective success in this fixture. In the last 20 Edinburgh derbies, only three times have Hibs finished victorious.
“I’ve only ever lost the one game against Hibs, which was at New Year this year,” continues McGowan. “It was difficult to take, but everyone felt we performed quite well that night. Hibs put us under a lot of pressure and we did our best, so no-one was too hard on us on the night.
“We’ve got a good record against them, but that’s through working hard and battling for every ball, like you have to in these matches. Our record will only continue if we go out and do the same on Sunday. I’m not sure if there’s a psychological advantage for us over Hibs but, as Hearts players, we’re always expected to win derbies. If that brings a psychological advantage, so be it. We just go into the game expecting to win.”
Anticipation of Sunday’s meeting at Easter Road has not been dimmed by the fact Hearts are already relegated. If anything, there is an extra edge to the occasion because they could drag Hibs further towards the Scottish Premiership’s relegation play-off place by winning.
“It’s always exciting going into derby week, especially at Easter Road,” says McGowan. “You tend to always get a great atmosphere there and the Hearts fans always turn out in their numbers. This week is no different, now we just want to make sure we get three points. We’re on a good run of form and we want that to continue.
“This is one of the last big games that everyone will tune into this year so it’s definitely a chance for us to go and prove ourselves. It’s hard not to get a bit excited and wound up when you know you’re playing Hibs. I’ve generally had good games against them. All of the boys have played well in derbies so it does add that little bit of excitement knowing it’s against Hibs and it’s down there.
“I think the fans have always got their secret agendas with the Hibs fans. They’re always goading each other about something. As players, we don’t have anything to do with that. We’ll treat this like any other game. Hibs have a lot of respect from us, but we’ve done the job against them a few times this year so we’ll be hoping to do so again.”
It is intriguing to hear McGowan’s view that the football itself is not the main component when Hearts meet Hibs. “The banter between the fans always creates an excellent atmosphere,” he adds. “The week leading into a derby is like no other. The week after it, if you come off a good result, is excellent as well.
“It’s just the passion from both sets of fans that really makes the Edinburgh derby. The games themselves aren’t anything special. It’s the fans that create the atmosphere and make it a special occasion.”
Hibs’ form leaves much to be desired ahead of Hearts’ visit to Leith, but McGowan does not expect that to have much bearing on this game. “You look at some of our derby results when we’ve come off a bad run of form. We won at Easter Road in the League Cup this season after a poor run of form,” he points out. “It’s an old adage, but the form book doesn’t matter in derbies because the game is played at such a tempo that there’s no time to think about how you’ve been playing.”
That said, Hearts’ own displays of late have been both consistent and entertaining. The development of their young players has come too late for them to survive in the Premiership, but their response to being relegated can only be admired. Going to Easter Road will certainly not prompt any trepidation.
“With the young players, I don’t think there’s any fear going anywhere,” says McGowan, who is just 22 but is regarded as one of the more experienced players at Tynecastle. “We went up to Pittodrie and won, and we’ve played well at Celtic Park.
“There’s no fear when you play with a lot of young boys. They’ve never gone to Easter Road and had a terrible result so they just see it as another venue, another exciting place to go. Easter Road is a great place to play football and that’s how they look at it.
“You can definitely help them throughout the game. If you’ve been involved in a few derbies, you generally know what to expect.
“Most of our lads have played against Hibs and done well so it’s just a case of keeping them grounded, keeping 11 men on the field and keeping your head. These points will be put across in the dressing room.
“Towards the end of the season, it was kind of an inevitability that our relegation would eventually come. There’s been a good response from the boys with the results we’ve put together since then. A personal goal of mine, and a target for the whole team, is to get to within 15 points of the team above us. We want to say that technically we aren’t the worst team in the league without the points deduction.
“Sunday is a big game for the players and it’s one the fans will want to win, so we’ll be doing everything we can to win it.”
If Hearts are victorious, it will be their fourth victory from five derbies this season. That ought to make the streets of Edinburgh pleasant enough for McGowan and his colleagues for another few weeks.