Hearts fans seem emphatic in their belief that their side will finish in the top two in this season’s Championship, while their Hibs counterparts are less optimistic about their team’s chances.
In an online survey carried out by the Evening News - one for Hearts and one for Hibs - to gauge supporters’ feelings ahead of the new season, the general consensus is that Jambos are bursting with belief ahead of this weekend’s big kick-off, with Hibbies’ expectations slightly lower than those of their city rivals.
In a second tier where Rangers start out as bookmakers’ favourites to finish first, a whopping 96 per cent of Hearts fans feel their team will finish in the top two, with 46 per cent predicting they will win the title.
By contrast, only 50 per cent of Hibs fans believe their team can secure a top-two finish and just 14 per cent can envisage Alan Stubbs’ side finishing the campaign as champions.
To underline the growing sense of optimism on Gorgie Road, 93 per cent of Hearts fans signalled that they were confident about their team achieving promotion. Only 44 per cent of Hibs fans felt the same way about their own side’s prospects.
Despite the disparity in optimism levels of the two Edinburgh supports, there is general contentment on both sides of the city with regard to the men who will be spearheading the promotion challenge of their team. A healthy 83 per cent of Hearts supporters are positive about the new managerial structure, with head coach Robbie Neilson working under director of football Craig Levein. Similarly, 73 per cent of Hibs fans are happy with the appointment of Stubbs as head coach.
Hearts fans are encouraged by the summer transfer activity at Tynecastle, with 97 per cent either “delighted” or “cautiously optimistic” with regard to the arrivals of Neil Alexander, Scott Gallacher, Alim Ozturk, Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben, James Keatings, Soufian El Hassnaoui and Osman Sow.
Midfielder Gomis was voted as both the “best signing of the summer” and the man likely to have the “most impact on the pitch”, while striker Sow, who has scored four goals in four pre-season games, is the unanimous favourite to finish the season as the club’s top scorer, with a commanding 83 per cent voting in his favour.
Hearts’ midfield – they can select from Gomis, Buaben, Jason Holt, Scott Robinson and Angus Beith – is deemed the strongest department of the squad, with 73 per cent of voters feeling that the Jambos defence, with no established cover for full-backs Kevin McHattie and Callum Paterson, is in most need of strengthening. With the new signings not having had a proper chance to impress yet, teenage pair Callum Paterson and Sam Nicholson shared the lion’s share of the votes in the “favourite player” category. Club legend Rudi Skacel is the player most Hearts fans would like to see their club sign.
Across the city, Hibs fans are reasonably happy with the summer recruitment of Mark Oxley, David Gray, Farid El Alagui and Scott Allan, with 62 per cent either delighted or cautiously optimistic over the business carried out by Stubbs. It is chief executive Leeann Dempster, however, who has been pinpointed as the club’s best new addition of the summer.
Farid El Alagui is the man Hibs fans reckon will get the most goals, with 47 per cent tipping him as their likeliest top scorer this season. El Alagui also features prominently among those expected to “make most impact on the pitch”, with the French-born Moroccan sitting just behind fellow new recruit Scott Allan and teenager Alex Harris.
Hibs fans feel the strongest area of the squad is the midfield – Owain Tudur Jones, Scott Robertson, Liam Craig, Sam Stanton and Allan are among the options in the engine room – while 60 per cent view the attack as the department most in need of strengthening.
Stanton is viewed as the most popular player at Hibs, with 19 per cent choosing the 20-year-old midfielder as their favourite, although the long-serving Lewis Stevenson is a notable presence in second with 16 per cent of the vote. Out-of-contract former Motherwell and Scotland forward James McFadden is the man most Hibs fans would like to see their club make a move for.
With all but one of the Championship teams based in the central belt and the prospect of several new grounds to visit, more than 30 per cent of both Hearts and Hibs fans have indicated a desire to go to more away games this season than they did last term.
Hearts fans have made it clear that the league is their priority, while some Hibs supporters have indicated that they feel the cups may offer their best chance of success this season.