GARY LOCKE insists he won’t allow his buoyant Hearts to take beleaguered Hibs lightly tomorrow.
Terry Butcher’s side have slipped to within three points of the relegation play-off spot after a dismal run in which they have won just seven points from a possible 42 since the last Easter Road derby on January 2.
Locke’s relegated side, meanwhile, have taken ten points from their last four games, a run which was sparked by a 2-0 victory over Hibs four weeks ago. However, the Hearts manager refuses to buy into the notion that the Hibees will be meek opponents when the Capital sides collide for a fifth time this season at Easter Road tomorrow.
“It will be a really tough game,” said Locke. All the Edinburgh derbies are the same, it doesn’t matter what the form is going into it, who is doing well and who is doing not so well. The derbies are completely different.
“We know we are in for a really difficult game. I certainly don’t buy into their current form. People say we are favourites but I don’t buy into that. Hibs are above us in the league and they have a really good squad of players. They have a really good management team I have a lot of respect for.”
Locke’s side will be looking to make it four wins from five derbies this season, but he insists the margins have been so fine in all the previous encounters that it would be stretching a point to say they have been dominant.
“I have no idea why we have had the edge. There are always wee decisions in games that can turn things in your favour,” he said. “You saw that in the last one when Hibs [Jordon Forster] scored and had the goal chopped off and the one before [the New Year derby] when they got a penalty late on and scored it. So there are wee decisions in games that can change things for you.
“This year we have done okay with the derbies and it is important we go in with the same attitude again because I have no doubt we are going in against a really good Hibs side.”
Hearts have the incentive of knowing that victory would take them to within 15 points of Hibs, which would mean only the Tynecastle club’s administration-induced penalty would separate them.
“That would be a great achievement for us given the youthfulness of the team,” said Locke.
The manager senses an extra buzz of excitement this week in a dressing-room which is well-populated with Hearts fans. He feels the deep-rooted affiliation so many of his players have for the club can help them rise to the occasion on derby day.
“It helps that we have a lot of Hearts fans in the team,” said Locke. “Certainly from a personal point of view it was always a game I looked forward to as a player. You knew what was at stake. You knew the bragging rights in the city were up for grabs. But, at the same time, we have to play the game and not the occasion.
“We have a young team and an enthusiastic team and, if we play the way we have done over the last few weeks, we have a good chance of winning the game.
“There is always a buzz about training. We have a really good young squad who all get on really well with each other. And you can definitely see the tempo of the training lift slightly ahead of bigger games. I’m delighted with the way we have trained this week and hopefully we can take that into the match.”
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Hearts Under-20s’ Youth Cup final showdown with their Rangers counterparts will be staged at St Mirren Park, Paisley, on Tuesday, 13 May. One player unlikely to feature that night is 20-year-old goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, who is set to sit out the rest of the season with an ankle injury.