CAUSING terror down in Leith is the favoured pastime of many a Hearts winger. Tormenting Hibs defenders in their own backyard is what Tynecastle legends are made of: from Tom Jenkinson – the first Tynecastle player ever to win an international cap – and David Baird, through Gordon Smith, Ian Crawford and Alex Young to Bobby Prentice and then John Colquhoun and Neil McCann.
This time, Hearts will field not one but two traditional wide men at Easter Road. The sight of David Templeton and Andy Driver stepping off the team coach on Albion Road on Sunday morning may cause many of Pat Fenlon’s squad to shudder with fright, particularly given the Edinburgh clubs’ respective performances last weekend. After Hearts overwhelmed St Johnstone 2-0 in Saturday’s opening SPL victory over St Johnstone, Hibs succumbed meekly to a 3-0 defeat at Tannadice 24 hours later.
Clearly, wingers are integral to John McGylnn’s new Hearts team. Templeton won a penalty and scored against St Johnstone after some impressive pre-season performances. Driver, following some horrendous injury problems, is rediscovering form and beginning to look like his old self once more. A combination of both threatens to wreak havoc in the Edinburgh derby.
With Templeton on one flank, Driver on the other and John Sutton through the middle, McGlynn has pieced together a three-pronged forward line which is the envy of most SPL clubs. They carved St Johnstone apart on several occasions at the weekend and offered strong indications that open, expansive wing play is ready for a welcome return. If you happen to be Tim Clancy or Paul Hanlon, the Hibs full-backs, it might be time to start worrying.
BBC Scotland pundit Allan Preston, himself a former Tynecastle winger, believes those at Easter Road are right to be concerned. “I think Hibs have got to fear it. Wingers are one of Hearts’ strengths and when it’s one-on-one, Templeton and Driver are difficult to stop,” he said. “Both of them can go inside or outside an opponent. Templeton’s trickery for the penalty on Saturday was incredible and the second goal was a sublime finish. I was sitting right behind it and you could see him passing it round the goalkeeper. I think Hibs will fear the two of them because they’re match-winners and that’s what you need in every team.
“There’s nothing better than wingers in the modern game. Celtic have James Forrest, Dundee United have Gary Mackay-Steven and Aberdeen now have Johnny Hayes. Hearts have got two of them though. Templeton in particular was outstanding on Saturday but both had the responsibility of helping out younger guys behind them who didn’t have much first-team experience. I thought they did that very well.
“In the Scottish Cup final, it was wingers who won the game for Hearts in my view. Suso and Driver gave them great width and Hibs didn’t have that because they had a tight midfield three. The Hearts wingers got space on both sides and I think it will be something similar at Easter Road on Sunday. That’s where the game could be won and lost. If Driver and Templeton are on form and getting at the Hibs full-backs, they could decide the outcome.”
That prospect will only heighten the excitement amongst travelling supporters. Edinburgh’s grocery stores will be out of tin foil long before Sunday as Hearts fans prepare their own Scottish Cup replicas to gloat over May’s rampant success against their greatest rivals. The partying will continue long into the night if Templeton and Driver are in the mood for some sorcery.
“It’s a massive game. Any derby is huge,” said Preston. “Hearts are on a high after beating St Johnstone and Hibs will be down after losing at Dundee United. It will be a big atmosphere and everyone will be watching live on television.
“If Hearts do have aspirations of challenging Celtic at the top of the league, they need to be going to places like Easter Road and winning. Templeton and Driver are big occasion players and they should be able to perform in every single game. They’ve certainly started well.”
Hearts also have the Lithuanian internationalist Arvydas Novikovas and the teenager Jamie Walker as back-up to Templeton and Driver should McGlynn wish to freshen up the team at any point. The embarrassment of riches is something he is making good use of.
Like many modern managers, McGlynn’s tactic is to deploy his wingers on the “wrong” side – that is, the opposite flank to the foot they favour. Playing Driver on the right side and Templeton on the left may be against the grain for some people but it allows for greater flexibility within a team. Templeton’s second goal, when he executed a Cristian Ronaldo “chop” with his left foot to cut inside Dave Mackay and finish with his right, proved the theory is working.
“Lionel Messi does a lot of his stuff at Barcelona from out on the right because he can cut in on to his left foot,” explained Preston. “That’s the reason behind it and Templeton and Driver are quite comfortable on both wings. If they don’t feel they are getting joy against the full-back they can switch, with gives defenders an added problem. You need to be versatile and flexible.
“If you stick to the old policy of right footers on the right and left footers on the left, then what if it doesn’t work? You need to be able to change it and that’s where the flexibility comes in.
“You have Andy Driver coming in from the right side and his crosses with his left foot are bending in goal, so anything can happen with the slightest of touches. The wingers are cutting inside on their stronger feet and getting shots at goal.
“Templeton is definitely the more comfortable doing it because he’s more two-footed. What you find with a lot of left-footed players is they don’t want to use their right if they can help it. I don’t have a problem with it at all.”
Not many are going to voice discontent given Hearts’ encouraging start to the new campaign. Going out on a wing again at Easter Road on Sunday may leave Hibs making more than a few prayers.