Anthony Brown: Hearts could once again ruin Hibs’ party

Callum Paterson's goal won the first derby of the season at Tynecastle
Callum Paterson's goal won the first derby of the season at Tynecastle
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Hearts fans will disagree but, thankfully for neutrals, it looks like there could be something noteworthy riding on this Sunday’s live televised Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.

In purely football terms, there is not a great deal to play for: Hearts will ultimately be relegated regardless of what happens this weekend and Hibs will finish in the bottom six whether they win, lose or draw. It’s a grim situation for Edinburgh’s finest as they prepare to join each other in completing the season in the doldrums of the top flight for the second successive season.

Yet, assuming St Mirren can collect at least a point from their next two games, Sunday’s Tynecastle showdown will take on some much-needed additional significance, with Hibs fans rushing to sell out the away end for what they have billed “Relegation Sunday”. It’s not often the embattled Easter Road supporters get a chance to lord it at the home of their greatest rivals, but this weekend could provide them with a rare opportunity to secure some sustained bragging rights from a trip to Gorgie.

Without the incentive of being able to relegate their rivals, there would have been no such clamour from the Hibs fans, disillusioned by a dismal run of one win from 12 games, to fill the away end, never mind snap up all the tickets more than two weeks in advance. Assuming St Mirren do the business and that Hearts aren’t relegated before Sunday – an outside possibility – this weekend’s derby will become the Easter Road side’s biggest match of the season by virtue of what it will mean to their support.

After having the “5-1” taunts rammed down their throats for the past two years, being able to boast about relegating Hearts would at least afford the Hibs faithful some kind of retort in this ever-parochial city rivalry. Hearts fans, for years, used to sing about how “we won the cup and the Hibs went down” in the same season in 1998. While Hibs fans will be unable to include the line about winning a cup, being the team to hammer the final nail into Hearts’ coffin would certainly bring a temporary feelgood factor to a support whose only other source of solace is the all-too-familiar hope that things might be better next season.

Of course, even if St Mirren stick to their side of the bargain and tee things up perfectly for Hibs to apply the finishing touches, the big question mark would surround whether or not the Easter Road side had the wherewithal to take their opportunity and provide their fans with a rare highlight from this wretched season. Hibs and expectant crowds, however, rarely go hand in hand, especially in derbies. They turned up in Gorgie back in August hoping to enjoy their first afternoon of baiting Hearts since they entered administration and ended up getting turned over by Gary Locke’s young team. Despite their struggles throughout the campaign, Hearts are a far stronger proposition than they were back in August, while Hibs, given their toils since winning the New Year derby, are arguably in no better shape than they were back in the summer.

The Easter Road side certainly won’t be in the same upbeat fettle they were before their last big derby party was ruined by Hearts seven years ago, when a low-on-confidence Jambos side turned up at Easter Road and beat John Collins’ newly-crowned League Cup holders. What should have been a memorable day for the Hibs support swiftly turned into a damp squib as merry-making Hearts fans stayed in the ground demanding to see the “wee cup” wheeled out. For Hearts fans, it ended up being one of their most memorable Easter Road derbies of the last decade.

The danger for Hibs is that Relegation Sunday backfires in similar fashion and ends up in yet another derby humiliation. For all that the Hearts fans will be hoping second-bottom St Mirren lose their next two games and kill off any hope that their rivals can relegate them, there will be some Jambos quietly relishing the possibility of their team ruining Hibs’ party plans by getting the point or three that would prolong their survival mission by another few days.

After the cack-handed manner they’ve handled their battle to make the top six and, given the growing sense that this is a Hibs team likely to be ripped apart by Terry Butcher in the summer, it would be hard to make a strong case for the visitors pulling off the result they need to send their city rivals down, unless a draw turns out to be enough. On the other side of the coin, in a season where it seems everything that could go wrong for Hearts has gone wrong, it would almost typify their campaign if their bitter rivals were to finish them off.

Given the dismal campaigns the two Edinburgh sides have endured, there should be no sense of genuine glory attached to what happens on Sunday. But try telling that to whichever supporters end up bounding out of Tynecastle with the bragging rights in the bag.