HEARTS enter Sunday’s clash with Hibs knowing that victory could see them complete a clean sweep of Edinburgh derby wins in one season for the first time in the Premier Division era.
With Hibs destined to finish the season in the bottom six and Hearts odds-on to be in the top six after the split, this weekend’s encounter at Tynecastle is set to be the last Capital derby of the season unless, of course, the mouthwatering prospect of an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final comes to fruition.
Hearts, unbeaten in nine consecutive derbies, have won both encounters between the teams already this season and will have the incentive of making it a maximum haul of three wins from three for the campaign.
Neither side has managed a clean sweep of derbies in one campaign since the top-flight teams started playing each other more than twice a season following the inception of the Premier Division in the mid-1970s. This is particularly remarkable given that Hearts have had both a 17-game and a 22-game unbeaten run in the last 25 years, while Hibs enjoyed their own periods of derby domination in the 70s.
Tosh McKinlay, who was the Hearts left-back throughout the 22-game run from 1989 to 1994, sees no reason why his old side won’t complete a full series of derby wins for season 2011-12.
“Hearts have certainly had the upper hand in the derby games over the years and they will be full of confidence going into Sunday’s game,” said McKinlay, now 47.
“I’ve been quite impressed with Hibs under their new manager and they will have to end this run some time. But Hearts have to be favourites, simply because they’ve got such a good record against Hibs. If they show the same determination they’ve shown in the last nine games, they’ll certainly get a result.”
Speaking from experience, McKinlay reckons the Hearts players will take to the field with an air of invincibility given their exploits in this fixture of late. “Hearts had the sign over Hibs in my time, so there’s no doubt that you went into every derby believing you were going to win it,” he said.
“Even if Hibs went ahead, you always had that belief that you’d get back in the game or go on and win it. I remember one particular game when Hibs took the lead, but I always felt we’d take something from the game and then Neil Berry scored an equaliser.
“There’s no better games than playing your local rivals, but when you’re on a run like Hearts are on just now, you’re doubly fired up because you’ve got the bit between your teeth to keep it going.
“You don’t want to be part of the side when that run eventually ends, so, in a situation like this, there’s always a real determination to keep the run going. The run is always going to be broken some time. It hurts when it ends, but at the end of it, you look back on the run and say ‘that was no’ bad’.”
As Hearts, who have won six of the last seven derbies, aim to make it ten in a row unbeaten against their city rivals, McKinlay is astounded that Hearts have enjoyed such dominance in the fixture.
“I was thinking about the 22-game run we went on and it must surely be some kind of derby record,” he suggested.
“I couldn’t see any team in Europe going 22 games without beating their rivals. People often forget that just before the 22 games in a row, Hearts had actually gone on another 17-game unbeaten run against them, so in that time, Hibs only won two games in 41 against Hearts, which is unbelievable. I was at the club throughout the whole 22-game run and we actually ran out of ways to beat Hibs. The cup game when Fozzy [Wayne Foster] scored in the last minute at Easter Road stands out, but it helped that we had a goal machine – John Robertson.”
The current side may not have Robbo, but they do have the belief and momentum that comes with not losing a derby in almost three years.