CONFIDENCE is rising steadily at Riccarton ahead of tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby, with Hearts boasting a record of three wins in their last four matches.
Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald has managed two clean sheets in his last three appearances and can justifiably face Hibs with a fair degree of belief.
Gnawing away at MacDonald and his team-mates is the fact Hibs are unbeaten in four Capital meetings so far this season. Three SPL fixtures between the clubs have resulted in draws, while Hearts exited the Scottish Cup at Easter Road last December. Those statistics don’t sit too well with anyone at Hearts, particularly the more experienced members of the first-team squad.
The final derby of the season, therefore, will have an edge to it, despite both clubs being ensconced in the SPL’s bottom half and Hibs with a Scottish Cup final at the back of their minds.
“We’ve won three out of our last four, and the game we lost was changed by a red card early on. Confidence is high now and we’re looking to win our last two games,” explained MacDonald.
“We want to win every derby game. It has been very disappointing this year with three draws in the league and losing the cup game. That was another very close game and we lost to a goal which was a deflection off big Zal (Marius Zaliukas). It’s disappointing we haven’t beaten Hibs this year. It’s definitely something we’re going out for and tomorrow gives us a chance to stretch away from them as well.
“Earlier in the season, Hibs were going on about this being their best season in a long time. We’re the opposite. We’ve been very disappointed with how our campaign has gone. If we win at the weekend we’ll be four points ahead of them, albeit they will have a game in hand. It gives us the chance of potentially finishing above them and keeps us in the frame for finishing seventh.
“After the way the season’s gone, it wouldn’t be a great ending but it would end up being an okay year if we finished seventh considering what’s gone on at the club. We reached a cup final, although we lost, and we have a young team. Finishing seventh would be okay considering we were down in 11th and really struggling at one stage.”
Hearts’ struggles are far from over, especially off the field, but it is Hibs who are suffering a form slump at present with only one league win since the turn of the year. Change is imminent at Tynecastle over the summer and the squad at manager Gary Locke’s disposal next season could look quite different to this year.
“Over the last few years it’s probably been difficult for Hibs,” continued MacDonald. “They’ve been through a few transitional periods, just like we are going through one just now. This is a massive transitional period here and it will probably be more of the same next year.”
The last Edinburgh derby in March was conspicuous because of the “goal” that was not awarded. Leigh Griffiths’ stunning free kick from 30 yards struck the underside of the crossbar and clearly bounced down over MacDonald’s goal line. However, referee Euan Norris did not signal a goal. That denied Hibs victory, although MacDonald still allows himself a wry smile.
“People were asking if I knew it was in. At the time, I honestly didn’t know because I was facing the other way. After seeing it on television, I still believe it wasn’t in,” he joked. “No. It was obviously a clear goal, but it was a bit of luck that we haven’t had a lot of this year. You take it when you get it because there have been plenty instances when luck has gone against us. I think I’ve had six or seven own goals past me this season, so I’ll take it.
“Thankfully there’s no goalline technology. It’s too expensive and hopefully we’ll never see it. Unless the situation is the other way about, then I’ll be screaming for it.
“I don’t hear so much about that incident now. The first week or two was a bit manic with people always going on about it, but since then it’s died down and there hasn’t been much said.”