Craig Levein: Hearts-Hibs derbies are just like any other

Hearts manager Craig Levein believes the Edinburgh derby is as keenly fought as any other.

Thursday, 8th March 2018, 4:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th March 2018, 4:37 pm

Hibs head coach Neil Lennon this week claimed he enjoyed a less intense and fraught build-up to the matches and observed it was a “lot tamer” than the Glasgow derby.

But Levein said ahead of tomorrow’s Ladbrokes Premiership encounter in Leith: “The last time we were down there when he did his lap of honour, he looked like he was enjoying himself, so ...

“It’s a derby match and you can’t say one set of supporters love their club any more than another support.

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Hearts manager Craig Levein

“The feelings are the same for a derby match between the Old Firm and for a derby between the Dundee teams and the teams in Edinburgh. It’s just there is a bigger crowd at the Old Firm. It’s the same thing.

“It’s always a massive game, I love this fixture. Yeah, there’s only three points at stake, I get that, but for me there’s more importance attached to this than a lot of matches we play, just because of the nature of the game and the rivalry between the two clubs and supporters.”

While Levein is steeped in the encounter following more than two decades with Hearts as player, director and manager, January loan signing Joquaim Adao feels he is quickly up to speed with what the game means.

“We had a derby in Switzerland but it wasn’t a derby in the same city, it was a region,” the Sion player said. “It’s not the same.

Hearts manager Craig Levein

“Here I know the rivalry is very fierce between Hearts and Hibs. I was in a taxi with my family and the taxi man said he was a Hibs fan and: ‘Tomorrow I kill you!’

“It’s not just the football, it’s all the people, and that is nice.”

Levein stoked the rivalry after the most recent encounter, when Hearts ended a run of nine derbies without victory, by claiming they had “restored natural order”.

But his side will have to overturn a run of four consecutive defeats at Easter Road if they are to have a realistic chance of bridging a nine-point deficit on their neighbours.

“I think we are relishing the prospect of playing Hibs, and that’s a good thing,” said Levein, who will be without Demetri Mitchell and David Milinovic and has fitness doubts over centre-backs Christophe Berra and John Souttar.

“We are obviously coming off the back of a disappointing result against Motherwell and the disappointing feeling of going out of the Scottish Cup and it’s good that we are coming back into something that’s intense.

“Our competitiveness is fairly high, and it needs to be for this match. The secret, I believe, in these fixtures is not to concentrate solely on the fighting and competing, but who can get the ball down and play the most football will have a chance of winning the match. You have to combine the two things and I think we are capable of doing that.”

Hearts added competitiveness to their team when they signed Adao - he has been booked in each of his six games. But the midfielder will not tone down his approach.

“Calm? Tomorrow? No. I don’t want to get a yellow card, but I don’t play calm,” he said.