TYNECASTLE has not staged a competitive match since Hibs’ 2-1 victory there in May. Tomorrow, the Edinburgh derby takes place again in Gorgie with both teams transformed since then.
Despite losing 28-goal Leigh Griffiths, Hibs should hold the upper hand given their rivals are minus 15 points, in administration and have a small, inexperienced squad. Gary Locke, though, stressed that is no excuse.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Tynecastle,” said the Hearts manager. “We couldn’t have a pre-season game there because the pitch wasn’t quite ready and what have you. We’re getting back on home soil and it’s important we start with a win. The last game at Tynecastle was Hibs, so it’s a strange one. I’m looking at this as a chance to kick-start the season. It’s a derby we’re all desperate to win and we need to start eating into this 15-point gap. We have gone into derbies before having not done well in games leading up to it, but for me we always go into derbies looking to win them. We’re no different this time. Obviously we have a young squad but that’s no excuse for me. That’s the squad we’ve got and we need to go into every game thinking we can win.
“Hibs have strengthened wisely in the summer but they’ve brought in quality. Rowan Vine is a player I like, he’s a clever player who scores goals. They’ve obviously spent money on [James] Collins so they’ve strengthened from last year. Our squad is a bit paper thin so it’s going to be difficult. We certainly expect to do better than last week [against St Johnstone] and hopefully get a victory.”
Locke can only look on in envy at other Scottish Premiership managers supplementing their squads. He is restricted by a registration embargo, an automatic punishment for any club that enters administration. “I’m envious of every manager at the minute,” he continued. “It’s not just Hibs, everybody signs players and we can’t sign any. Of course you’re going to be envious but we are where we are. There’s no point in me worrying about who other people are signing. I know I can’t sign anyone so you’ve just got to get on with it.”
Although keen not to reflect on the past, Locke is mindful of what he viewed as a meek performance by Hearts in that last derby. “It was a sore one. What was even worse for me was the way we played. If you’re going to lose a derby there’s a way to do it and that certainly wasn’t the way. We didn’t really compete and that really disappointed me.
“If you’re going to get beat, you’ve got to compete and look as if you’re up for the game. I felt we were second best all over the pitch in that game. We can’t have that again. It’s a completely different team now because we have a young fresh squad. Any derby game has spice to it because you want to win it. They’ll be the same as us because you get the bragging rights in the city and to beat them is a good one for the fans. We’re well prepared, we’re fit and ready.”
Locke’s burden since pre-season training started has been eased by the arrival of Billy Brown, who is assisting him voluntarily. The manager conceded he had felt the strain after succeeding John McGlynn last season. “It takes its toll, there’s certainly a lack of sleep,” he explained.
“You’re obviously thinking about what the team’s going to be, who is fit, what you’re going to do at training the next day and what have you. Billy’s been a big help in that respect so I’m not having to do everything at training. He can take a bit of it and I take a bit.
“The Pro Licence told you what to expect and you speak to other managers. Everything that’s come my way I’ve expected, apart from administration. That was a nightmare. I feel as if I’m dealing with it reasonably well. I’m enjoying it and I just want to get a couple of wins to kick-start the season.
“Billy has been unbelievable. It was difficult for me last year at times. There was a lot of pressure on myself, although Darren Murray and Alan Combe were here. I felt I was taking a lot on myself because Darren had to take the younger boys.
“It’s great that I’ve got the help now and someone to bounce ideas off of. Billy’s experience has been invaluable because I’m a young manager. To have somebody of that pedigree beside you in the dugout means everything.”