Michael Nelson has only ever played at Tynecastle once, but today the big Hibs defender admitted he’ll be walking on air if he leaves the Gorgie ground with the same result.
On that occasion Hearts were left stunned as a hat-trick from one-time Easter Road trialist Cillian Sheridan earned Kilmarnock victory, a late strike from skipper Marius Zaliukas no more than a consolation for the Jambos.
As he looked forward to his first Edinburgh derby, the big defender said: “If it goes the same way I will be very happy. I think we were under the cosh for quite a large portion of the game but came away with a 3-1 win. I’ll take that.”
In fact, Nelson proved to be something of a talisman for Kilmarnock during his short stay at Rugby Park when it came to Hearts, playing the Jambos three times and not once ending up on the losing side.
Although it’s only a few short months since he quite Ayrshire for Bradford City only to return north of the Border to become Pat Fenlon’s latest summer recruit for Hibs, 33-year-old Nelson conceded the Hearts side he’ll face tomorrow will differ vastly from the team he faced last season although, he argued, there’s been so many changes at Easter Road he’s still familiarising himself with his own new team-mates.
He said: “That’s what happens through the summer, teams change. That’s just the nature of the games, people move on and people come in, so very rarely do you go out and play two derbies with the same starting XI two seasons in a row. I’ve probably seen more of the Hibs team of last year than I have of this one in my short time here. But it seems to be a good blend. There’s a few experienced players in and the young boys. So I think it’s just a case of getting that first win under our belt, getting that little bit of confidence going and hopefully bounce on from there.”
Hearts’ changes have, of course, been forced on them, a mass exit at the end of last season as the club fought to get costs under control before plunging into administration and being hit with a 15 point deduction while Fenlon has again overhauled his squad only to still be seeking a first win after three competitive matches.
Crisis is a word which has been thrown at both Capital clubs, but as far as the much-travelled Nelson is concerned, any worries Hibs and Hearts may have, or be preceived to have, won’t come into play tomorrow.
He said: “I don’t think it’s really going to have anything to do with what goes on with the 22 players on the pitch. At the end of the day, the form book and off-field circumstances don’t really come into play in a lot of normal games, let alone in a derby. I don’t think any of the players will be going on the field and 30 minutes later be thinking ‘my club’s in turmoil’. I think they’ll be worrying about the few thousand fans that are probably screaming at them. Whatever is going on around the clubs, whichever club that is, whether it’s Hibs or Hearts, goes out the window. It’s just 11 against 11 for an hour-and-a-half tomorrow.”
Much has been made of the youth of the team Gary Locke will be forced to name but, again, Nelson insisted that will count for little at the first blast of referee Craig Thomson’s whistle although, he admitted, he and his team-mates will seek to expoit any youthful nerves in their opponents.
He said: “You always try and look for the weak points and where you can capitalise on things, but that’s sometimes the beauty of youth, sometimes you don’t have that fear, which is a good thing.
“I see it around the training ground with some of the young boys at Hibs, they just get out there and play. They are not bothered what’s going on around them. It can swing both ways, sometimes it can work against you and sometimes it can work for you.
It’s the same with every game you play, especially when you are away from home, you try to turn the crowd and try not to let them get behind them and be their 12th man. If you can get at them early on and upset the crowd, get them moaning and groaning, then hopefully that will get on to some of their players and it will help in your favour.
“They might think of that when they’re sitting at home Monday to Friday, but come the weekend when it’s time to work I don’t think it will be going through their minds.
And Nelson reckons it’s far too early in the season in any case for either side to be classed as favourites.
He said: “There’s no real form book, it’s going to be the second game of the league campaign, so both teams are still trying to find their feet and bed in, so it could be a chance for whoever goes on to win the game to set their stall out and kick on from there.”