Comeback goal in derby was my Hearts high - Aguiar

Bruno Aguiar nets his free-kick against Hibs in 2008
Bruno Aguiar nets his free-kick against Hibs in 2008
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Aguiar wants Jambos to show the same mental fortitude which allowed him to deny Hibs...

EASTER ROAD forever holds a special place in Bruno Aguiar’s heart. The free-kick scored by the diminutive Portuguese there three years ago ranks as the finest moment of his three-and-a-half-year Hearts career. Quite an accolade from a player who played Champions League football and won the Scottish Cup whilst at Tynecastle.

On Sunday, October 19, 2008, Aguiar drove a free-kick beyond Yves Ma-Kalambay after 42 minutes to equalise Steven Fletcher’s opening goal in the Edinburgh derby. In doing so, he instantly ended the dismay brought by 18 months of injury torture. He turned and sprinted towards the Hearts technical area before jumping ecstatically into the arms of physio Rob Marshall, who had helped him through his darkest moments.

Aguiar endured two ankle operations and serious doubts over his future career after a Julien Brellier training ground tackle in April 2007. He plumbed the depths of despair and wondered whether he would ever kick another ball. Then, after months of painstaking recovery, came his return that day at Easter Road. The performance was something worth waiting for as his stunning set-piece nestled in the Hibs net.

For that reason, Hibs’ home will remain a cherished venue in the mind of the former Hearts midfielder. “I scored the free-kick and it was an amazing moment for me, one of the best in my entire career,” said Aguiar, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I would say it was my best moment as a Hearts player because a few months before that I didn’t know if I would play football again or not.

“I came back and scored a goal in a derby game at Easter Road which was so important to the team and the fans. The goal gave me confidence. The people adored me and gave me such a good feeling. That day was so special for me. It was my first game after the injury and it was at Easter Road. I remember Csaba Laszlo came to me and asked me if I was ready. I told him I was ready to start the game. When I learned I was in the team I was so happy because everyone wants to play in these games. Everybody is a little bit nervous before big games like the Edinburgh derby. A lot of people live for that day and every player is nervous and anxious before the game comes. I was much more nervous because I had not played for such a long time.

“To play one derby after 18 months without football was amazing and I felt great after scoring.

“I ran to give Rob Marshall a hug because he supported me so much during my injury. I was sometimes very, very down and he lifted me all the time. When I scored I just thought of him and all the medical department at Hearts. Their help was so important to me.”

Every morning is adorned by Mediterranean sunshine for Aguiar these days. He is in his third season as a key component of the midfield at Cyrpiot club Omonia Nicosia and is hoping to wrest the league championship back from arch rivals APOEL by May. But, on Monday, he would gladly swap the luxurious lifestyle for the howling wind and rain to take his place at Easter Road against Hibs.

“I will look on the internet to see if I can watch the derby,” he continued. “In these games, the attitude is the most important thing. The motivation for the players is at the maximum. The coach doesn’t need to say something special to motivate the team. The players are ready, 100 per cent. Normally the result is decided on small details, like who makes the least mistakes. That can be the difference between winning and losing.

“We know how important these games are for the fans. After the match, the fans go out onto the street and they have to be able to laugh at the fans of the other team. The players have to win the derby to make the fans happy. You have to do everything for them.”

Aguiar’s final encounter with Hibs came at Tynecastle in May 2009 when Derek Riordan scored the winning goal from the penalty spot 11 minutes from time. Weeks later Aguiar was off to Cyprus on freedom of contract. Since then, Hearts have not suffered a single defeat against their Capital rivals. Eight derbies have been played out in the intervening two-and-a-half years. Hearts have won five, the other three ending in draws.

“The coach must say this to the players in the meeting before the game. It will give confidence to the team,” insisted Aguiar. “Not to make everyone over-confident, just to make them strong. This is a good sign that Hearts have not lost to Hibs for a long time. It shows Hearts is a strong team and has more experience in this kind of game.

“We can’t say Hearts are favourites for this match because anything can happen in a derby. Sometimes the better team can lose.

“I think it’s 50-50 but Hearts have a small advantage in their minds because they have not lost a derby for a long time.”

It was strength of mind which helped Aguiar return from the most harrowing period of his career. He left Edinburgh for pastures new in 2009 but, internet stream permitting, he will enjoy a few pangs of nostalgia around kick-off time on Monday.