MIXED emotions will accompany the Hearts players as they enter the cauldron of Easter Road on Sunday. Losing 4-0 to Celtic will be prominent in their thoughts, but at the back of their minds will be memories of Hampden Park in May. The satisfaction of beating Hibs 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final will never leave those who experienced it. Defending the trophy against the same opposition guarantees both excitement and nerves, particularly for younger players.
Those who remember Gary Locke playing in Edinburgh derby matches will recall a passionate and dauntless character. His drive and resolve ensured he never lost against Hibs as a Hearts player, and he remains undefeated in derbies since returning to Tynecastle as first-team coach. He is no longer the histrionic, impetuous type, though. Youth is the order of the day at Hearts and Locke has to be a stabilising influence on teenagers like Jamie Walker and Callum Paterson.
As many as six or seven graduates of the Riccarton youth academy could start at Easter Road as the cup holders begin the defence of their trophy against the team they demolished in the final. The kids’ mindset will be crucial, which is where Locke comes in. “I think they’ll need to calm me down,” he laughed. “When I played in Edinburgh derbies, it was always a game you were right up for. You need to be sensible as well, though. There’s no point going out trying to be the hero and kicking people all over the place. That’s not going to win you a game like this.
“You need to play with your head and be composed because it is frantic at times. Normally, it’s the team with the most composure that wins the game. It will be a typical derby atmosphere and we need to make sure we handle the occasion. We know we’re in for a difficult game. For a lot of our younger players, this will be their first derby. They have had a taste of it at Under-19s and Under-20s, so they know what it means to the club.
“It’s really just a case of getting them focused and in the right frame of mind. If they do their jobs properly, we know we’ve got a chance. We’ll respect Hibs. They’ve had a very good start to the season and they’re certainly a different side to the one we played in the league last year. We’ve already played Hibs down there and came away with a point. A cup tie is different and we will go to Easter Road in a confident frame of mind. ”
Having watched Celtic react ferociously to losing against Inverness by destroying Hearts, Locke is keen to see a similar reaction from the Jambos this weekend. He knows better than anyone that Easter Road is the perfect place for Hearts players to show their mettle.
“We will definitely be looking for the same kind of reaction. We told our players on Wednesday that Celtic would be a wounded animal after a bad result against Inverness. They were well up for it and we need to be the same going to Easter Road. It’s a massive game for the club. It’s an Edinburgh derby but, with it being a Scottish Cup tie as well, there is a lot at stake.
“We can’t get too down about Wednesday night, we just need to get the heads up and be raring to go on Sunday. The main thing is we have a big game after a heavy defeat against Celtic. We need to put that game behind us now. The boys will be well up for the game, as will the Hibs players. On our day, I feel we’re more than capable of beating anybody. It just happens that we’ve got Hibs in the first game in the cup. It would be a great game to win.”
Not least because it would extend Hearts’ and Locke’s impressive records against their greatest rivals. Whilst the coach has never lost an Edinburgh derby he has been involved in, his club are amidst a 12-game unbeaten derby run stretching back to May 2009.
“I’d rather not bring that up, to be honest,” he said of his own record. “I never look back, I always look forward. Everything that’s happened, even last year, is all gone now. This is a new season and it’s a very difficult tie for us. It’s easy for me to put that (record) out of my mind. Even the cup final last season is gone now. This is a different Hearts team, a different Hibs team.”
Hibs are the bookmakers’ favourites for Sunday’s tie, largely because they sit just a point off the top of the SPL having revitalised themselves in the wake of their cup final defeat. They are in form, whilst Hearts have inconsistency as their biggest friend this season. Locke isn’t overly perturbed, however.
“I don’t think we need to prove anything to anyone. We’re desperate to win, as are Hibs. The game will be hectic, 100 miles an hour, and whoever handles the cup tie atmosphere will come out on top. I think Hibs will be desperate to win the game to appease their supporters. That’s the big thing in Edinburgh, you get the bragging rights if you win.”