Terry Butcher today claimed Hearts are a different team when they face Hibs, adamant that the Jambos will do everything they can to avoid their Capital rivals relegating them on their own ground tomorrow.
But Butcher, who enjoyed victory in his only Edinburgh derby to date, insisted he was more interested in repeating what he described as “one of the best experiences I have had as a manager”.
While Hibs fans are working themselves up to a frenzy anticipating some payback for the Scottish Cup humiliation they suffered at the hands of Hearts two years ago, Butcher has urged his players to distance themselves from the hype and to concentrate on the three vital points which would go a long way to ending talk of his side becoming embroiled in a battle to avoid the relegation play-off position.
The Hibs boss said: “That’s rivalry, that’s what it’s all bout. There is always something that happens to get the fans going over the internet and what have you – there is always something significant about the game. That’s great.
“Sometimes you get wound up in that as a player, sometimes you can use that as motivation, but most of the time you try to distance yourself. You really have to concentrate on playing a good game of football, playing the game how you want it to go.
“If we set our own tempo, set it out pretty early, we can dominate them and make them make mistakes. But there is no doubt about what’s going on among the fans. I went to a Supporters’ Association thing last week and all the talk was, about us relegating them.
“Hearts will be keyed up. You see Hearts play in other Premiership matches, then you see them play us on January 2 and you’d think it was a different team. They were really fired up. They obviously want to beat Hibs, we want to beat them.
“As players, as a club, we can’t get involved in that. The result will have a significance, whether it means relegation or not. We’re just chasing the three points.
“We haven’t even talked about the relegation factor, the fans have said it. We’ve dismissed it because we’ve got to treat the game on it’s own merits.”
Derbies, regardless of the circumstances, are always passionate affairs with Butcher, the veteran of many Old Firm scraps, admitting his brief experience of Edinburgh derbies reminds him of those days when Rangers and Celtic went head-to-head and, he revealed, he’s tried to ensure the intensity of match-day has been replicated at Hibs East Mains training centre this week.
He said: “It is fantastic, this game. They’re unique. I’ve only experienced one from a Hibs perspective. We won it and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had as a manager. I want this one to be the second best game of my managerial career – if not the best.”
“It has been a great week, you’ve got to embrace it, say this is it, this is the scenario, it’s full of passion, commitment. They’re always marvellous when you win, if you lose they are the worst in the world.
“We did well in that particular match in January, played very well. That’s the target we’ve set the players, to play as well as that if not better.
Butcher has added Duncan Watmore and Owain Tudur Jones to his squad following injury, while goalkeeper Ben Williams is back in contention having missed the defeat by St Johnstone to attend the birth of his second son. However, the Hibs boss confirmed that Paul Hanlon will undergo an operation on his knee, ruling him out for the rest of the season.