There may be nothing more than professional pride at stake for Hearts, but Don Cowie is under no illusions about how important tomorrow’s match against Hibs is for the club’s supporters.
The on-form Easter Road side head to Tynecastle needing a victory to stay in the race to finish second in the Premiership, while Hearts are assured of nothing more than a sixth-place finish regardless of how they fare in the fifth and final Edinburgh derby of the season. At the end of what has been another exasperating campaign for the Hearts supporters, Cowie is well aware that defeating their city rivals and ending their bid to finish second would provide some solace.
“It’s been a poor season from us so the only way we can give a wee glimmer of hope to the fans and make them a bit happier is to beat Hibs,” the midfielder told the Evening News. “I’ve been at a few club events over the past week with supporters and not many of them mentioned Sunday’s game against Celtic – all the talk was focused on making sure we beat Hibs. That’s how important it is to them so we need to make sure we go out there and do the supporters justice because we’ve not given them enough to get excited about this season.
“The fans give up a lot of their time, and financially it’s a lot of money to come and watch us home and away, so it’s important to give them a bit of time back. It’s imperative that we appreciate what they do for us so I always try and give supporters as much time as I can to let them speak about how they feel the season has gone and things like that. It’s only right that you listen to what they have to say. Three points against Hibs would hopefully help boost them going into the summer.”
Hearts have won only one of the past 11 Edinburgh derbies, although they can take some confidence from the fact they haven’t lost at home to Hibs for five years.
“The derbies haven’t been the most spectacular games since I’ve been here, but we’ve managed to make it difficult for them at Tynecastle,” said Cowie.
“They’re a confident side. They’re our rivals but you have to take your hat off to them for what they’ve done this season. They’re fighting for second spot so they’ll come here confident they can get a win, but we need to recover from Sunday’s game against Celtic and make sure we’re ready to try and give our fans something to shout about.
“If we play like we started against Celtic, we would fancy our chances. Since I’ve been here, I’ve realised that the most important thing the supporters want is to see that you’re working as hard as you can and making things as competitive as possible for the opposition. Hibs will be up for it, so we need to match that and make sure we sign off our home campaign with a victory.”
Hearts certainly showed enough passion and commitment against Celtic in the first half before running out of steam in the Gorgie sunshine as the visitors cancelled out Kyle Lafferty’s opener and went on to win 3-1.
Cowie was frustrated that Hearts lost their undefeated record at Tynecastle this season in a match where they briefly threatened to pull off a home double over the champions following their sensational 4-0 triumph in December.
“It was disappointing to lose the unbeaten record at Tynecastle,” said the 35-year-old. “I felt we were in the ascendancy in the first half. We were doing well and forcing them into mistakes by replicating what we did in the previous game against them at Tynecastle. It was working well but we switched off at a set-piece. Even then, going in at 1-1 at half-time we were happy.
“But again we conceded a really poor goal early in the second half and it was hard to turn it round after that. Goals change games and they got there’s at a good time.
“It was really hot and we had put a lot of effort into the first half so we possibly tired a bit in the second half because we weren’t getting as close to them as we did in the first half.”
Cowie has been at Hearts for two and a half years and makes no bones about the fact the team generally haven’t lived up to expectations within that period. With a sixth-place finish set to follow last year’s fifth place, the veteran acknowledges that there has to be a notable upturn in results next season if Hearts are to elevate themselves from being mid-table Premiership plodders to Europa League chasers once more.
“It’s been a tough two seasons for the fans,” said Cowie. “We’ve said it many times and the manager has said it, but this pre-season is going to be huge. The league is getting stronger.
“You see the appointment Rangers have made in Steven Gerrard and how consistent Aberdeen and Hibs have been, so if we don’t get our act together we’ll get left behind. If you’re going by the league table, it doesn’t look like we are heading in the right direction, but the manager is trying to act quickly and get players in as early as possible.
“I’m sure there will be a few people leaving as well, but that’s football. The most important thing is this football club and ensuring we’re back challenging among the top four again.”