The last weekend of October, the second Edinburgh derby of the season fast approaching and Hearts are preparing to march across the Capital exuding an air of invincibility.
Undefeated, the Jambos feel unbeatable having swept to the top of the table, brushing aside opponents with consummate ease, their success including a win over Hibs at home in the second game of the season.
The uncertainty of past months has long gone, the Tynecastle club boasting a new owner and a squad bolstered by a host of summer arrivals who have instantly been embraced by the Gorgie support.
However, it’s not October 2014 we’re talking about but this time nine years ago, comparisons between the two eras uncannily similar, the Ann Budge reign getting underway in exactly the same fashion as that of Vladimir Romanov.
“Scary,” admitted former Hibs star David Murphy as he today contemplated the links between now and then, a further shiver going down his spine as he was reminded that amid their dominance of 2005, Livingston had inflicted defeat on Hearts in the League Cup, just as they did in this season’s Petrofac Cup clash between the clubs.
But, given Budge doesn’t dramatically sack head coach Robbie Neilson between now and Sunday, there the comparisons diverge, Murphy recalling that the shock dismissal of then Hearts boss George Burley dominated the headlines as he and his team-mates awaited the visit of their arch-rivals.
He said: “I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Hearts were flying, top of the league, steam-rolling everyone – they’d given us a bit of a doing at Tynecastle – and all of a sudden their manager is sacked with no explanation.
“I suppose it was the first taste of what the Romanov years were going to bring.
“Even so, we knew Hearts would be coming to Easter Road full of confidence but we also knew we had a great side which, on our day, was capable of beating anyone.”
Although Hearts turbo-charged start to season 2005/06 had dominated the headlines, Murphy believes ahead of that second derby Hibs own form had been overlooked, Tony Mowbray’s players having won eight of their first 12 league matches, including Ivan Sproule’s sensational hat-trick which had sunk Rangers at Ibrox.
Murphy recalled: “I think we were flying under the radar a bit – we’d suffered that defeat at Tynecastle, but the only other times we’d been beaten, by Celtic and Inverness Caley, followed our UEFA Cup games against Dnipro.
“Playing in Europe was a great experience for us as young players, but it did take its toll, particularly that long trip to Ukraine and then having to travel to Inverness.
“But we had a young, vibrant and exciting team. We didn’t have East Mains in those days, but I think everyone enjoyed going in to train every day and looked forward to the matches on a Saturday.
“I think the fans were excited, the atmosphere about the place was great and I’d like to think we gave the supporters something to enjoy.
“Tony Mowbray had come in to find the likes of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Steven Whittaker, Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan all breaking into the first team, while Steven Fletcher was still a very young lad, and he made some very cute signings.
“Boozy [Guillaime Buezelin] came in from nowhere, Dean Shiels arrived from Arsenal and he brought me in after I’d been released by Middlesbrough.
“It was a joy to play in that team. We had a great spirit among us and there was no fear factor. We believed we could win no matter who we were playing.”
That self-belief became evident as Hibs finally halted the Hearts juggernaut, a 2-0 victory with late goals from Beuzelin and O’Connor downing the Jambos after striker Edgaras Jankauskas – a summer arrival along with the likes of Panagiotis Fyssas, Rudi Skacel, Julien Brellier, Samuel Camazzola, Michel Pospisil, Ibrahim Tall and Saulius Mikoliunas – was sent off.
And, again, Murphy believes discipline could hold the key as he recalled how Scott Robertson and Osman Sow were red carded in the previous clash with Lewis Stevenson and Jamie Walker picking up two-match bans following their late bust-up.
He said: “The key is to make sure you finish the match with 11 men. Emotions run high, tackles fly in and the crowd give it that extra edge – the atmosphere they create can see players get carried away and lose the head.
“Was it a coincidence our two goals all those years ago came after Jankauskas was sent off? Who can say, but it certainly wouldn’t have helped Hearts.”
As in 2005, Murphy accepts Hearts will cross the city as favourites, 14 points ahead of his old club. But he revealed he’s been heartened by the upturn in form of Alan Stubbs’ side who are now unbeaten in five matches, a run which like way back then includes three goals at Ibrox.
He said: “I always keep an eye out for Hibs results – a lot of my family are fans because I played for the club and I do come back to Edinburgh fairly often to visit friends. I saw the Rangers game on television and I was quite impressed by Hibs, and it was good to see youngsters such as Jason Cummings, Jordon Forster and Alex Harris in the side along with guys like Paul Hanlon, Lewis Stevenson and Callum Booth, who have all come through the ranks like so many of my old team-mates.
“I think we had such a good young team back then that fans believed there was a conveyor belt of talent and another equally as good group would be coming through every couple of years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen like that. Having so many at the one time was the exception rather than the rule.”
While Hibs fans still ponder what might have been had Hibs been able to hold onto that golden generation, Murphy argues it was inevitable that given their talent they’d move on, in his case a £1.5 million move to the English Premier League and Birmingham City.
He said: “I could never have seen myself playing for another Scottish club. Coming from England, I’d always wanted to play in the Premier League. I wanted to test myself against the best, and that was the best competition in the world at that time and remains right up there today with La Liga in Spain and the German Bundesliga.
“Financially, it was good for Hibs. East Mains was built and the stadium completed although, sadly, things haven’t gone so well on the pitch.”
To that end, Murphy confesses to being baffled as to his old club’s demise. He said: “When Pat Fenlon left they were in quite a strong position, relegation must have been the last thing on anyone’s mind.
“Terry Butcher had done such a fantastic job up at Inverness it was a real shock to watch how things unfolded. Even down here I think it was a huge surprise given he remains an icon of the game, a former England captain.
“I watched the first leg of the play-off against Hamilton and when Hibs won 2-0 I thought that was it, the job was done and they were safe. I didn’t see the second leg, but I was stunned to learn they’d been relegated on penalties.”
An inevitable upheaval took place and that, Murphy feels, has lain behind Hibs indifferent start to life in the Championship, although recent signs have been far more promising.
He said: “Rangers have been building towards this season for the past couple of years, while Hearts were probably preparing for dropping down throughout last season after the Romanov years caught up with them and they were hit by that 15-point penalty and a transfer embargo.
“Hibs, on the other hand, have had to deal with something no-one could have envisaged. Massive changes obviously needed to be made and hopefully we are now starting to see the result of that now.”
Although he hasn’t been back to Easter Road for a match since moving to Birmingham, Murphy retains a soft spot for Hibs, the CIS Insurance Cup triumph over Kilmarnock unsurprisingly the high point, although there are other moments he still treasures.
He said: “We didn’t do particularly well in derbies, but seeing Rob Jones head home the winner against Hearts in the quarter-final of the CIS Cup I’ll always remember. “I was also lucky enough to score the only goal of the game at Ibrox, which took us to the top of the league for the first time in seven years and in my last match for Hibs I scored against Celtic at Parkhead and we only missed out on a win with a late equaliser from Jiri Jarosik.”
Sadly for Murphy, his career came to a premature end earlier this year, the left back forced to hang up his boots just two days after his 30th birthday, having failed in his fight to overcome a persistent knee injury.
He said: “I suffered the injury in November 2012, had the operation right away, and was told I’d be out for 10 months. I tried to come back, but in three of the six games I played the pain was too much to bear and I had to come off. I went back to see the surgeon and he advised it was time to call it a day. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things, part of the game.”