AFTER such an authoritative display against Tottenham, Scott Robinson is entitled to feel his prospects of starting tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby are strong.
The 19-year-old belied his tender years at White Hart Lane with a standout midfield performance full of guile and grit. Having ticked that box off, he is keen to fulfil another ambition by facing Hibs for the first time.
Robinson has never played in an Edinburgh derby despite being in and around the Hearts first-team squad for more than three years. It is something which irks him more than a little. “It would be massive for me to play in this game, right up there with the Tottenham game,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I’ve never played in an Edinburgh derby and I’ve been itching to do it for a while. I hope this is my time. I got injured a couple of years ago when I was supposed to play, and Gordon Smith stepped in for me and got a goal at Easter Road.
“Any time on the park would be brilliant tomorrow because it’s something I’ve yet to do. Watching derbies on TV, you can tell it’s a great occasion. To play at White Hart Lane was a massive occasion, the biggest game of my life. I think I did all right. I felt pretty comfortable on the pitch and the team played pretty well overall. I felt confident and as soon as I got on the ball, the first few touches went well.
“I hope I’ve staked my claim. Derbies are completely different games. It’s just about winning your individual battles. Obviously Hibs will be right up for it. I’ll just need to wait and see who the manager picks. I think he will be delighted with the players after Thursday. He didn’t say much, just that we worked as a team and as a unit and that we’d done well. That was all he asked of us.”
Robinson left London high on adrenalin but was mindful of complacency after a goalless draw with one of English football’s traditional giants. “If Hibs were bottom of the league and we were top, both teams would still be right up for it. It’s a massive game for the whole of Edinburgh. Anything can happen and we need to be aware of that.
“Going to White Hart Lane, we just wanted to play as a team and get the best result possible. I think we did that because 0-0 is a great result there. I thought Gogs (Smith) had scored with the one that hit the bar, I was gutted for him. A couple of inches lower and it was in and he’d have a goal at White Hart Lane. I don’t think it was in but I saw his hand up claiming for it.”
Smith, realistically, is likely to find himself back on the substitutes’ bench tomorrow. Robinson’s bite in central midfield could see him granted a starting slot. The way he flew into tackles on Thursday could not have failed to impress the Hearts manager Paulo Sergio, likewise his composure on the ball.
“Hard but firm,” laughed Robinson when asked about his challenges. “I think the foreign ref reacted more than any of the Spurs players. Maybe he’s not used to that sort of tackle. As long as it’s fair, it’s fine. You can’t be too over the top because you need to stay composed, but I’ll be right up for it if I play tomorrow.”
Sergio expanded on Robinson’s point about not becoming carried away with Thursday’s Europa League result. “It’s a different game,” said the Portuguese coach. “We should be happy with what we did well against Spurs but this is different. I don’t want anybody thinking it’s going to be easy because of what we did on Thursday. I hope we continue to improve.”
Signs are Sergio is beginning to mould Hearts into the kind of team he wants: hard working, efficient and confident. It could be argued all that is missing at the moment is a scoring touch. “If I was here at the beginning of the season it would be easier for me. Believe me, it’s been hard work since I arrived,” he explained. “We don’t have time to sleep because time is running and the transfer window is closing at the same time.
“I’m always sure we are going to improve. I will never be happy with what we are doing, I always want more but perfection doesn’t exist. I’m sure the players are understanding me more now. We are passing the ball better, not kicking it nowhere, and we are defending well as a team. Everybody is running trying to recover the ball, that’s the teamwork we work on every day and I’m happy with the improvements I’m seeing.
“We are going to start thinking about the derby right now. I know it’s a different game. It has nothing to do with what has happened before. It’s a derby, it’s emotional but I don’t want my players to be emotional. I want them very cold and focused on what they have to do.
“I played a few derbies in Lisbon and in Porto. These games always have big noise around us but we shouldn’t go with that. We should do our job and do what we do every day.
All the players have chances to play. They did good work and I believe in them. It doesn’t matter if they are 19 or 41, it’s the same. That statement suggests he won’t have trouble placing his faith in youngsters like Robinson tomorrow.