SNIFFER dogs that can detect flares and fireworks will patrol Easter Road as part of a huge police operation to ensure the New Year derby passes off peacefully.
With tonight’s clash kicking off at 7.45pm, there are fears the late start will give rival fans all day to drink in pubs, possibly fuelling crowd trouble.
Aware of stinging criticism following last year’s fixture, which resulted in Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill slamming the trouble, matchday commanders have been keen to highlight a rigorous approach to policing the game.
It had been suggested fans from both camps are likely to be more subdued than usual given recent tragedies that have united the city’s clubs, but that hasn’t been left to chance.
The sniffer dogs, security checks, a heightened police presence and mounted bobbies will all work together to ensure the showcase goes ahead with minimum disruption to the vast majority of people who just want to see the game.
A Police Scotland source said: “When it comes to policing city derbies we’ve all had plenty of experience, but everyone is aware of the potential for trouble tonight which is why people can expect to see a significant policing operation.”
The Easter Road clash, originally scheduled for yesterday, was moved back to allow the game to broadcast live on Sky.
Last year’s New Year derby, which also had a late kick-off, was slammed by Mr MacAskill after trouble broke out during and after the match.
He said league chiefs must revise the scheduling of evening kick-offs in the wake of ugly scenes which saw fans allegedly spit into the face of a young ballboy and reports of a flare being hurled at Hibs fans.
Mike Riley, chairman of the Hibs Supporters Association, said: “There could well be trouble – I just hope that everybody is sensible. ”
Hearts have released information to fans reminding them “to have a good time but to behave themselves”. A spokesman said: “The club is confident its fans will display their usual passionate support for the team on the pitch whilst behaving before, during and after the match.”
Sharon McGee, of Jambo pub Diggers, warned: “There’s more time for people to drink so it’s much more likely there will be trouble. Derby matches should have earlier kick-offs.”
Superintendent Lesley Clark, match commander, described the game as “a special occasion for the city”.
He added: “I would urge all of those coming along to support their team to enjoy this match in the proper spirit and ensure the day can be enjoyed by everyone in attendance.”