Exclusive: Toby Sibbick ready for rare visitors as he fights for Scottish Cup success with Hearts

Reaction in Barnsley and West London to Toby Sibbick’s Hearts progress is slightly derisory. Friends and family are delighted for the player but others remain unconvinced about Scottish football’s quality.

Friday, 20th May 2022, 11:00 am

Sibbick has come a long way from his origins in Feltham. Still just 22, his journey includes AFC Wimbledon, Barnsley, loans at Oostende and Hearts before a permanent transfer to Edinburgh in January this year. He is already a staunch defendant of the game here whenever anyone questions it.

Those closest to him will be his guests at Hampden Park for Saturday’s Scottish Cup final between Hearts and Rangers. The occasion offers a chance for any sceptics to tune in and judge properly rather than criticise from afar. Sibbick openly admits he has already been in people’s ears.

“Yeah, of course. I speak to my friends and explain that games up here are a lot tougher than games down south,” he said in conversation with the Evening News. “It’s good for me because I haven’t been tested this much before. It’s a lot more physical up here and I’m enjoying the experience.

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“It’s more intense here. It’s intense in the English Championship but you don’t get as much rest in Scotland. Every team wants to press whether they are bottom or top of the league. It’s relentless and it can be like a basketball match at times.

“People do downplay the quality of the Scottish league because it isn’t broadcast as much in England. I do think, when they talk it down, they don’t have an open mind.

“I’ve got family, friends and my girlfriend coming up this weekend. There's enough room for everyone. As soon as we won the semi-final, I got a few messages from friends saying they wanted to come up for the final. It’s very rare for them to come here to watch a game.”

They wouldn’t want to miss Sibbick’s first national cup final. His backstory denotes relegation fights with Wimbledon and, ever so briefly, Hearts, plus last year’s English Championship play-off semi-final with Barnsley.

Toby Sibbick joined Hearts in January this year.

This is the highest point of his career to date as Hearts prepare to experience new heights under manager Robbie Neilson. They are already guaranteed group-stage matches in either the Europa League or Europa Conference League next season as a result of reaching the cup final.

That comes after finishing third in the Scottish Premiership just a year after gaining promotion from the second tier. The last few months at Tynecastle Park have taken Sibbick to another level.

“Yeah, I’d say this is a high for me. This is probably the best team I’ve been with so far in terms of excelling,” admitted Sibbick. “We’re in a cup final and qualified for Europe. It’s been a good season but Saturday is an opportunity to make it an even better one.

“This cup final is massive. For some of us, it’s probably the biggest game of our careers so far. Last year we got to the play-off semi-finals at Barnsley, those two games were massive. I understand the pressure but I think on Saturday the pressure is more on Rangers.

“They are expected to win so we will go out there, play our game and try to take control. We always try to start games quickly. We want to win trophies and have medals from our careers to look back on. This is a chance to do that.

“You can overwhelm yourself if you think about it too much so we will prepare in the best way possible.”

The giant defender is still feeling a slight twinge of pain from an injury sustained against Motherwell at Fir Park in the penultimate league game of the season. It isn’t regarded as serious enough to preclude him from Hampden, thankfully, but medical staff will monitor it nonetheless.

Sibbick explained how he feared the worst at the time with the cup final just days ten days away. “I got caught just below the knee. I think he hit a nerve because it sent shocks down my leg and I couldn’t feel my leg,” he said

"I was in agony. It started to settle about 15 minutes after I came off. I’m still in a bit of pain now and I can still feel it but it’s improving. At the time, I just thought I was done.

“The physios came on and I couldn’t really feel my leg or move it. When I got in the dressing room, that’s when it hit me [potentially missing the final], but luckily it wasn’t too serious.”

With John Souttar and Craig Halkett available again following ankle injuries, Sibbick’s place in the Hearts starting line-up against Rangers cannot be considered certain. Much will depend on the fitness levels of the two Scots and Neilson’s willingness to balance risk against reward on the day.

Playing 90 minutes in the semi-final victory over Hibs allows Sibbick to travel west in confident mood. If he is selected, or is asked to play as substitute, he will be entering an arena which holds no sense of fear or unfamiliarity.

“The semi was my first time there so I didn’t really know what to expect. Now I’ve been there, I can prepare myself mentally. It was quite hostile against Hibs and I’ll probably expect the same thing. We will have a lot of fans there getting right behind us. They’re a good set so I’m looking forward to that.”

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