Jordon Forster is judge and jury within the Easter Road dressing-room, charged with maintaining discipline among his team-mates and with the power to fine anyone who steps out of line.
However, on Sunday, the young Hibs defender will be looking to arrest the scoring spree of Hearts striker Osman Sow, the Swedish hitman’s sensational late winner at Ibrox taking his tally to five in as many games since he began donning a maroon shirt.
And it’s a challenge Forster is looking forward to as he returns to a ground which holds bittersweet memories for him, a derby victory on his debut clouded by that disallowed goal on his last visit to Tynecastle, the blunder by assistant referee Alasdair Ross in flagging him offside robbing Terry Butcher’s side of a precious point as they desperately battled – in vain as it turned out – to avoid being dragged into the relegation quagmire.
A belated apology for the glaring error did nothing to soothe Butcher’s anger and even today, five months on and with Hibs now facing at least one season in the Championship as they do battle with Hearts, Rangers and others for an immediate return to the top flight, Forster admitted he still can’t help think: “What if?”
As a professional football player he is, of course, programmed to dismiss setbacks and concentrate solely on the next match, but such was the enormity of that moment, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to forget it.
He said: “You try as a footballer to deal in fact and the result rather than what ifs and what could have beens. But I think it’s only natural that I still look back and wonder what might have happened had that goal counted.”
Hibs had headed across the city on March 30 knowing that although they themselves were in freefall, victory would condemn their Capital neighbours to relegation. But Hibs fell behind to an early Dale Carrick goal, a lead the Jambos held until, eight minutes from time, Forster threw himself at the ball to send a header beyond Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald.
Incredibly, Ross failed to spot Dylan McGowan clearly playing the 20-year-old onside and threw up his flag, leaving referee Steven MacLean with no option but to chalk the “goal” off. And to rub salt into Hibs’ wounds, Billy King notched a second as they threw everything forward in search of that elusive equaliser.
Forster, who instinctively knew at the time the official had got it badly wrong, said: “We were in the ascendancy at that stage and had the goal counted we’d have taken a point and maybe even gone on to win the game. You try not to think what it might have meant, but even a draw at that stage of the season might have helped us, it might have changed the momentum of our season a little, given us that wee bit momentum to pick up a few results.”
Hibs didn’t, of course, resulting in Edinburgh finding itself without a team in the top flight of Scottish football for the first time ever, the flip side being that many rate this season’s Championship more exciting than the Premierhsip with Capital fans having the unexpected bonus of at least four derbies.
As such, Hearts go into the first of them as probable favourites, a status enhanced by that win over title favourites Rangers, in stark contrast to last season when it was Hibs who most felt would come out on top given the 15-point deduction foisted on the Jambos along with a transfer embargo.
It was Gary Locke’s side, however, which emerged triumphant, winning four of the five derbies including a League Cup triumph. Today, though, Forster insisted those dark memories will only serve to drive Hibs on this season.
He said: “It’s up to us to put things right this season, to go there on Sunday and win and then go on to earn ourselves promotion. Hearts might look on themselves as favourites, but I can assure you that’s not the way we are looking at it. Yes, Hearts went and beat Rangers, but we’d been at Ibrox only a few days earlier and had it not been for the dubious red card Danny Handling picked up we could well have gone on to win rather than lose it in extra time.”
Trying to judge the outcome of Sunday’s match based solely on those two results against Rangers is, of course, nonsensical, what happens throughout the upcoming 90 minutes will determine which set of fans – if there is to be a winner – will enjoy the bragging rights until next time round.
And if Robbie Neilson’s players expect to come across a Hibs side still feeling sorry for themselves given the events of last season, Forster said: “The fans were entitled to be disappointed and angry, but we’ve got a new head coach in Alan Stubbs and his staff, the brand of football we are playing is completely different and he’s drumming it into us that no matter what happens in a game we continue to play in the right way.
“His philosophy is that he’d rather sit us down and watch a 20 minute video of what we’re doing right rather than 30 minutes of where we’ve gone wrong – as a professional you know when you could have done better.”
Hibs will have a clutch of players getting their first taste of an Edinburgh derby in Mark Oxley, David Gray, Farid El Alagui, Scott Allan and Matt Kennedy, but Forster backed them to thrive in the red-hot atmosphere a sell-out crowd will create, while insisting that despite the obvious threat Sow poses, the visiting defenders will concentrate purely on their own games.
He said: “Sow’s a big strong boy with a bit of pace, good on the ball and no doubt Paul Hanlon, Michael Nelson and myself will have a chat about him, as no doubt will the gaffer. But if we do our jobs properly then that’s all that matters to us.”
Forster, who looks certain to start his fifth Edinburgh derby, admitted his first, won by goals from Leigh Griffiths and Ross Caldwell, seems a lifetime ago, the Gorgie-born player now a regular first-teamer and one who has been happy to take a measure of responsibility within the dressing-room despite the players’ tender years.
He revealed: “Danny and I were asked if we wanted to take responsibility for the players’ fines system. It’s a bit of fun, the boys penalised for things such as not wearing their flip-flops in the showers, forgetting to bring gear off the training ground and so on, just making sure we all do as we are supposed to.
“There’s a few serious things, but no-one has breached those rules so far, which makes the job easier. I think it’s good for young lads coming through to have a bit of responsibility and the money gathered will go not only towards our Christmas night out but will be split 50/50 with a charity.”