If familiarity with the Edinburgh derby is to be a factor in Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle, then Hibs can consider themselves at an advantage.
Not counting academy graduates like Rory Currie, Angus Beith and Liam Smith, Hearts could have as many as 13 players in their 18-man squad who have never previously experienced the all-Capital showdown. This number is made up of eight of their nine January signings – Dylan Bikey is cup-tied – plus Faycal Rherras, Perry Kitchen, Krystian Nowak, Bjorn Johnsen and substitute goalkeeper Viktor Noring. All of those players have arrived at Tynecastle since the Scottish Cup replay between the teams at Easter Road last February.
Hibs, by contrast, will have only a maximum of six senior players in their squad who have never tasted the fixture before – Andrew Shinnie, Grant Holt, Brian Graham, Chris Humphrey and the goalkeeping duo of Ofir Marciano and Ross Laidlaw.
Of the 22 players who started the first game at Tynecastle a year ago, 12 remain with the Capital clubs, but injuries to Callum Paterson and Paul Hanlon mean only ten have a chance of starting this Sunday. Hearts have parted with seven of their starting line-up from that dramatic 2-2 draw in Gorgie – Neil Alexander, Blazej Augustyn, Alim Ozturk, Gavin Reilly (on loan), Jordan McGhee (on loan) Abiola Dauda and Miguel Pallardo. Hibs have lost three – Mark Oxley, Anthony Stokes and Liam Henderson.
Hearts head coach Ian Cathro can field a maximum of only three players who featured at Tynecastle a year ago – goalscorers Sam Nicholson and Arnaud Djoum plus Prince Buaben, although it remains to be seen if the Ghanaian is even fit enough to be included following a recent calf problem. Don Cowie, Jamie Walker and goalkeeper Jack Hamilton are the only other Hearts players with previous experience of the fixture who are likely to play any part on Sunday, assuming Juwon Oshaniwa, who came off the bench in the home game last season, is not deemed worthy of involvement.
Hibs could quite feasibly start with seven of the XI that began that match at Tynecastle, while Liam Fontaine, James Keatings and Martin Boyle, who were subs that day and have played in the fixture before, are all likely to feature either from the start or off the bench this weekend. In addition to those ten players, Fraser Fyvie and Jordon Forster can also boast experience of the Capital’s showpiece match.
Hibs left-back Lewis Stevenson is out on his own as the Edinburgh derby veteran, with 30 appearances in the fixture. Walker, with 13 appearances, is Hearts’ most experienced participant.
In addition to the field of play, there will also be a new look in the technical areas, with both management teams overseeing their first Edinburgh derby. Hearts pair Robbie Neilson and Stevie Crawford have departed for MK Dons since the last fixture, to be replaced by Cathro and Austin MacPhee, while Neil Lennon and Garry Parker have taken over from Alan Stubbs, John Doolan and Andy Holden in the Hibs dugout.
Although the Hibs players have more experience of this particular fixture, Hearts can take encouragement from the fact most of their new players have played in high-profile derby matches elsewhere. Kitchen, Rherras, Andraz Struna, Aaron Hughes and Alex Tziolis are all full internationalists who have experienced hostile atmospheres on their travels, while Malaury Martin, Tasos Avlonitis and Johnsen also have enough big-game experience under their belts not to be fazed by the fixture.
Hibs will be confident that a level of continuity on the field can help them acclimatise quicker to the notoriously frenzied nature of this fixture as they look to extend a five-game unbeaten run against their city rivals. The majority of Hearts’ new recruits, however, have displayed enough adaptability and assurance in recent matches to suggest that their lack of prior Edinburgh derby experience is merely an intriguing subplot and not necessarily a significant factor on Sunday.
Hearts 2, Hibs 2: February 2, 2016
Hearts: Alexander; Paterson, Ozturk (Oshaniwa 51), Augustyn, McGhee; Buaben (Cowie 10), Djoum (Walker 82), Pallardo, Nicholson; Reilly, Dauda. Unused subs: Hamilton, Juanma, Souttar, Zanatta.
Hibs: Oxley; Gray (Gunnarsson 54), McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson; Bartley; McGeouch (Thomson 31), Henderson, McGinn; Stokes, Cummings. Unused subs: Virtanen, Fontaine, Boyle, Keatings, Dagnall.