DEFENDER Kevin McHattie knows that January could be a time of change for Hearts.
However, the Jambo kid reckons that, no matter who stays or goes, there will still be enough experience in the Tynecastle defence to cope with whatever Hibs can throw at them tonight.
Fans’ favourite Ryan McGowan – one of their best performers over the last 18 months – will not be involved in the third Edinburgh derby of the season after the club accepted a bid from Chinese side Shandong Luneng Taishan.
McGowan is seen as one of the biggest assets Hearts have right now and, with the financial problems currently engulfing the club, more could follow him out of Tynecastle during this transfer window.
The Australian’s absence tonight, combined with the long-term injuries to fellow defenders Jamie Hamill and Danny Grainger, means that McHattie will be part of a less experienced back four than the Hearts support have become accustomed to.
However, the Tynecastle players have had a number of ups and downs to negotiate in recent years and McHattie believes they will be well equipped if they suddenly have to cope with an enforced exodus of players.
McHattie admits that playing without McGowan in their line-up is a blow but says that being able to rely on Andy Webster and Marius Zaliukas in the centre of their defence will help them deal with the likes of on-form Leigh Griffiths at Tynecastle this evening.
He said: “You have just got to take it on the chin, wait and see what happens and then get on with it.
“We know that Hibs are flying right now. They’ve been doing well in the league, they’ve been scoring goals, so we have got to keep a cool head and concentrate on what we want to be doing.
“People might leave but we have still got Marius and Webby in there and they’re both strong, experienced players and that can make all the difference.”
McHattie realises Hearts are having to turn more and more to their younger players as they try to turn around the club’s finances.
There have been some concerns raised about the effect that losing some of their older heads would have on the current squad but McHattie is certain that each and every one of their younger players has a sensible head on his shoulders, so the club is in safe hands, no matter how old the players are out on the park.
“There is no doubt that we are all determined to screw the nut and make sure we are doing a good job for Hearts,” McHattie added.
“We might be a young squad but we’re all sensible and will keep working hard for the team. That’s just how it is.
“Everyone will be up for it and is looking forward to the game.
“Getting a good result against Hibs would be a great way to start the year off and hopefully set us off in the right direction.
“A win could be a springboard for whichever team comes out on top. If you can get a victory in the derby then it gives you great confidence and belief to take into the next game and the fans are all on a high as well.”
There was disappointment for Hearts in the last derby when their reign as Scottish Cup holders was ened by their rivals and McHattie admits that the Gorgie side will be looking for revenge.
“I am sure that game will be there in the back of our minds and it would be nice to turn things around from that,” he said. “It was a huge disappointment to go out of the Cup to them but we have moved forward and now we’re just looking forward to tonight’s chance to play them again so quickly.”
McHattie may be one of the youngest members of the Hearts squad right now but he is becoming something of a derby specialist as tonight’s game will be his third against Hibs since breaking into the first-team squad at the beginning of the campaign.
He missed out on the 5-1 Scottish Cup Final win last May but has started both of the clashes in league and cup this season.
He admits that the matches against Hibs are an experience not to be missed.
“Tonight’s game will be my third Edinburgh derby and I’m obviously looking forward to it,” he added. “They are always great occasions and I’ve really enjoyed playing in them instead of watching from the stands.
“The first ten or fifteen minutes are always a little bit nervy because there’s such a great atmosphere and passion from the supporters. But, after you get that initial period out of the way, you just settle into your game and ignore everything that is going on around you.
“You can just about hear your team-mates shouting over the noise but you get used to it and learn to just focus on your own game and doing what you have to do.
“The atmosphere at Tynecastle is always great when the stadium is packed but there’s that wee bit extra when it is a game against Hibs.
“The supporters have been great with us this season so we all want to give them something back.
“I’ve got a lot of family coming along to the game. My mum and dad will be there, so it would also be nice to get a win in front of them.
“It has been great to be involved with the first team over the last few months. Experience is everything when you want to play at this level so the more games that I am playing, the more confident I am becoming.
“Going out on loan to Alloa last season was also really good for me because I got a lot more first-team football under my belt.
“It’s been brilliant for me to have been involved on a daily basis with the first-team players at this club and their experience can only help me to continue to improve.”