Daniel Boateng is heading to Tynecastle for the first time on Sunday – but he already knows what it’s like to beat Hearts.
Granted, that victory was at Under-20 level as he pulled on a green-and-white shirt for the first time since making a loan move from Arsenal, but Boateng believes that February night at Livingson’s Energy Assets Arena, when the Hibs youngsters fought back to win 3-2, has given him a taste of what to expect this weekend.
Boateng said: “Even at that level it was a really, really tough game. Everyone was passionate and aggressive in everything they did and you could see what it meant to the players of both teams at the final whistle, the joy of our boys and the disappointment on the faces of the Hearts lads.
“Sunday is going to be a different experience entirely, but it’s one I am looking forward to. I haven’t been to Tynecastle before, but I’ve heard about it from the rest of the boys, that the fans are tight to the pitch and a 17,000 crowd will make for a great atmosphere. It’s the sort of game I came up here to Scotland hoping to experience.
“If you want to be a top player you have to be able to handle the pressure of such occasions. Obviously it’s a special game because it’s the big two Edinburgh clubs going head-to-head. There’s a lot of hype in the build-up to it and everyone knows all that counts is the final result.”
This time round, however, the final result may count for more than just the three points on offer, with Hibs potentially having the chance to consign Hearts to relegation from the Premiership if second-bottom St Mirren avoid defeat at Inverness tomorrow.
Boateng, though, insisted Terry Butcher’s players are concerned only for their own well-being, with the Easter Road outfit having endured a miserable run of just one win in their last 11 league games, which has prompted talk of them being dragged into the battle to avoid that dreaded play-off place.
He said: “Our fans are coming out to see the team win, but it’s a while since we did so which, understandably, has made them frustrated. But I also think we as players need to repay and show more for Terry Butcher. He is a very good manager, but people will only see that if the team is winning. We want to break this run of poor results and so we are focusing only on ourselves and what a win can do for us. It’s about giving everyone, the manager, his staff, the fans and ourselves as players the pride that goes with winning.”
While Sunday might be something different for Boateng, he’s already detected that edge around Hibs’ East Mains training centre this week that was all too evident as Arsenal geared themselves up for such matches at their base at London Colney.
He said: “There’s quite a few derbies in London with the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, Crystal Palace and Fulham in the Premier League, but the big one is the North London one between Arsenal and Spurs. Even as a youngster you could sense the different atmosphere in the days building up to those games.
“You could tell everyone was up for it and it’s the same feeling going into training this week. It’s becoming more intense each day. I haven’t played in a first-team derby yet, but, just like the Under-20 game against Hearts, derby matches at whatever age level in London were hard-fought and regarded as the most important games of the season.”
With Paul Hanlon’s knee injury ruling one of Hibs’ most experienced derby-day players out, Boateng will be thrust into the cauldron of Tynecastle with only one full first-team game behind him, last weekend’s defeat by St Johnstone which left Hibs marooned in the bottom six for a fourth successive season.
Today Boateng, who has made only one substitute appearance for the Gunners, admitted his McDiarmid Park experience was one of those bitter-sweet moments in football, with his patience at having to wait to be given the nod by Butcher rewarded but the day spoiled by losing.
Asked if he had become frustrated by the lack of game time – he’d come off the bench just twice since arriving in Edinburgh at the end of the January transfer window – Boateng said: “In life, generally everything is not always sweet. There’s good and bad, ups and downs. You always have to try to make the best of the situation so, as a football player, you have to deal with it. I’d been up at McDiarmid Park earlier in the week playing for the Under-20s and I never thought I’d be back there so quickly, but you never know what the future holds.
“I was delighted to get my first start, although it was disappointing for Paul to miss out through injury. To make my debut for the full 90 minutes was an achievement. It was a good test for me coming up against Stevie May, who has scored so many goals, and Steven MacLean, a very experienced player, but obviously the result was disappointing.”
Although he’s come from a club such as Arsenal, Boateng feels he has already benefited from his time with Hibs. He said: “My game has most definitely developed. The manager was a centre-back himself and Maurice Malpas was a full back. They won more than 130 caps between them playing for England and Scotland so obviously they know a great deal about the game and I’ve been learning from them all the time.”
Sunday will no doubt prove to be another steep learning curve for Boateng who, while insisting he knows very little about Gary Locke’s side, revealed he once took a passing interest in Hearts thanks to the presence in the Jambos ranks of Ghanaian midfielder Larry Kingston, with his own parents hailing from that African country.
He said: “Scottish games would be on television down south and every now and again I’d watch Hearts if Kingston was playing, really just because he came from Ghana. But I’ve never seen an Edinburgh derby on the telly.”
Now, of course, Boateng’s family have a more pertinent reason to gather round their television this Sunday lunchtime.