Demetri Mitchell: I’d never seen Hearts-Hibs game but I got stuck in

Demetri Mitchell
Demetri Mitchell
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Having never even watched an Edinburgh derby before Sunday, Demetri Mitchell now knows all about them.

Debuting with a man-of-the-match award in a win over Hibs is the perfect start for any Hearts player. Especially one making only his second appearance in senior football.

Mitchell battles with Hibs' Martin Boyle

Mitchell battles with Hibs' Martin Boyle

The on-loan Manchester United defender had zero knowledge of the Hearts-Hibs rivalry before agreeing a temporary move north. Everyone from manager to kit man at Tynecastle bombarded him with information for almost a fortnight to prepare him for a Scottish football bow in Sunday’s Scottish Cup fourth-round tie.

Mitchell delivered a confident performance at left wing-back in Hearts’ 1-0 victory. His 90-minute outing showcased attacking panache, dangerous crosses, genuine pace, meaty tackles and a volley which might have burst the net but for Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano’s astonishing save.

It was a remarkable debut, particularly since his only other first-team game was last May in an end-of-season win for Manchester United against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford. Hearts ambassadors for the day - Paulo Sergio, Danny Grainger and Darren Barr - named the 21-year-old as their man of the match to crown a memorable first appearance in Scotland.

“If I’m honest, no. I hadn’t seen an Edinburgh derby until I came here,” said Mitchell, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “All last week, it was drummed into me about how important the game was. The whole team were on at me as well as Austin [MacPhee], the manager, everybody. They told me what it meant.

“I was told how vital it is that we get the win, and we managed it. I’m happy the manager had faith in me to throw me into a game like that on my debut. It paid off because we’ve won. It’s only my second game at senior level. Hopefully there are many more to come.

“It was a really good game to be involved in and a really good performance from everyone. The most important thing was to get the win against Hibs.”

Intensified hype surrounded the cup tie due to Hibs’ recent dominance against Hearts. They hadn’t lost to their city neighbours in nine meetings since August 2014. Mitchell played in front of 75,000 people at Old Trafford but felt Tynecastle just as raucous with less than 20,000 fans present.

“I felt the nerves up until I got on the pitch. Then, once I saw the fans, I just thought: ‘This is something to thrive on.’ I looked around and saw all the supporters and realised it was a moment to shine and show what I can do,” he said.

“First, you just want to get on the ball and make a few passes. After that, you’re into the game and it just feels like any other game. You play your own way and that’s the most important thing. You’re not nervous and you thrive on the pressure.

“I felt the crowd a lot on Sunday because they’re right on top of you at Tynecastle. They were right behind me and I could sense that. When the ball went out for a throw-in, or I put a strong tackle in, or I beat my man on the run, I could hear the crowd roaring me on. It really helped me.

“It was the same at Old Trafford when I played there. Tynecastle is no different. The atmosphere was great and I really appreciated the backing the fans gave me. The manager just told me to play the game I normally play because I don’t need to impress anyone. I just had to build myself into the game and I think that worked.”

His slight build didn’t deter him in tackles, either. “I thought I got stuck in well and I dealt with the challenges. I knew it was going to be physical so I prepared myself for that. Having Christophe Berra next to me really helped. He just kept talking to me and pulling me in and that was really good.”

Hearts fans won’t get overly carried away with their new left-back just yet given the run of misfortune in that position. Mitchell is the latest in a long line of signings intended to solve a problem area.

Juwon Oshaniwa, Faycal Rherras – an unused Hibs substitute on Sunday – plus Lennard Sowah, Ashley Smith-Brown and Rafal Grzelak all tried and failed to establish themselves as the regular Tynecastle left-back for different reasons.

Initial signs are that Mitchell possesses many of the required attributes to succeed. He converted from winger to full-back around 18 months ago in the United youth team. Consequently, his strengths lie more in attacking than defending.

Hearts manager Craig Levein’s decision to employ three central defenders and two wing-backs against Hibs suited the new arrival. “The way the manager set up, it was intended for me and Connor Randall to get forward. It worked a lot, especially in the second half,” said Mitchell.

“I don’t mind playing left-back or left wing-back. I fell equally comfortable playing both but wing-back did help me get forward a lot more. I got some crosses into the box and I nearly scored a couple of times.”

Most notably in the 57th minute, when Esmael Goncalves’ hoisted a cross from the right towards the back post. The ball bounced once before Mitchell swivelled his hip to dispatch a ferocious left-footed volley which Marciano somehow pushed to safety with his right hand.

“I thought the volley was in. It was a really good save by the keeper. I was running off to celebrate and I just saw him claw it out. My hands were in my head,” smiled the Englishman.

“Hopefully I can bring some stability to that left-back or left wing-back position over the next few months. I want to play as often as possible and fill in where Hearts have been lacking this season and in previous seasons. I want to make sure I am a real asset to the team during this loan spell. My aim is to help Hearts have a strong end to the season.”

He is born and bred in Manchester and grew up in the shadow of Old Trafford. So where does the name Demetri come from? “My mum just liked it. That’s it,” he laughed. Hearts fans are beginning to like it, too.