Tynecastle may resemble a growling bearpit come high noon on Sunday, but Tom Soares won’t flinch an inch.
The Hibs midfielder, after all, has endured derby-day visits to one of the most volatile grounds in Britain and lived to tell the tale. As a former Crystal Palace player, Soares became accustomed to steeling himself for daunting trips across south London to face bitter rivals Millwall.
Needless to say, visiting players inclined to wilt in the face of hostility are well advised to tweak a hamstring in the lead-up to a derby at the Lions’ raucous New Den in South Bermondsey.
Thankfully for Hibs ahead of this weekend’s clash with Hearts in Gorgie, Soares is not the sort to go into hiding when things get feisty. In fact, trips into enemy territory simply have a galvanising effect on the on-loan Stoke City player.
“The New Den was pretty crazy,” he laughs. “It was a great atmosphere and it always got really heated but they were great days out.
“You had to get a police escort in and out of the ground and it was pretty intimidating, but that always helped me get up for the game. It was a great experience to play in those games. The fans were hostile and tried to intimidate you but that didn’t really bother me.
“It’s just fans being passionate about the game at the end of the day. I never got scared or intimidated. I like that passionate side of the fans and all the banter that makes a derby so special. Of course, it’s always much better if you come away with the three points.” Soares has seen teams flounder in the din of Stoke’s Britannia Stadium. Tynecastle is similarly renowned for its high-octane atmosphere on big-game days, but the 25-year-old is adamant there’s no chance of him being stifled in the West Edinburgh cauldron.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he continues. “I’ve missed a few games through injury but the derby would be a great game to come back into.
“When I played at Stoke the fans at the Britannia were unbelievable. I’ve seen a lot of teams come there and get intimidated by the noise.
“The boys have told me that the crowd at Tynecastle is really close to the pitch and that there’s always plenty banter flying between the fans so it sounds like the kind of game I’ll really enjoy.”
Not even a reminder of the fact Hibs are without a win in nine games against their city rivals is enough to make the ice-cool Soares waver from his ‘focused but composed’ default setting ahead of his Edinburgh derby baptism.
“I’m aware of the fact Hibs haven’t won a derby in nine games, but we can’t take much notice of that,” he says.
“There’s no real expectation on us, the expectation is all on Hearts, so hopefully that allows us just to concentrate on playing our own game and trying to get a win. Every derby is massive but as a team, you can’t allow yourself to get too involved in the fact it’s a derby.
“This week hasn’t really been different to any other for us. We’re just trying to treat it the same as any other game and stay calm and focused.”
Hibs’ current league position is also of little concern to Soares at present, as he has seen enough in his six weeks at the club to feel they can increase their four-point advantage over bottom-placed Dunfemline and ease themselves to safety in the coming weeks.
“In terms of results on the pitch, there’s been an obvious improvement since I first arrived. But in training I noticed the ability in the squad straight away and I always felt we had the potential to go on a decent run.
“The performances are now starting to come good and the new guys like myself are starting to find our feet, so hopefully we can carry that into Sunday’s game.
“With so many new boys coming in, people expected things to improve straight away, and in some ways it did happen. But I think in reality we all needed a good month to settle in. We’ve had that now and we’re getting some good results.
“In situations like [a relegation battle] you’ve got to be confident in your ability.
“In the win at Kilmarnock a few weeks ago we showed what we’re capable of. We’ve always been good going forward and creating chances but before we were making too many mistakes in the defensive area. In the last few games, though, we’ve been solid at the back and we’re still creating a lot of chances, so hopefully we can keep that up.”
Niggling injuries have meant that Soares has only featured in three games – one away to Rangers and two against Kilmarnock – since coming north to try and get a stalled career back on track in late January. However, in his two outings against Killie, Soares showed plenty to suggest he will be an asset to manager Pat Fenlon.
Now fit and ready to return at the weekend, Soares is enjoying life in the Capital and hoping he can pick up where he left off after scoring a double in his last game at Rugby Park three weeks ago.
“It’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to get on a decent run of games but hopefully I can stay fit and keep producing good performances,” he said. “I’m enjoying it in Edinburgh – it’s not really been difficult to get used to.
“I’m training with a great bunch of boys and we have great banter. They’ve all made me feel welcome. I live next to George Francomb and Denzel (David Stephens) so we chill out together and I’m always beating them at FIFA on the computer.
“My family come up every couple of weeks but, to be honest, I’m just concentrating on my football and trying to get my career back on track.”