Hearts' Aaron Hickey recalls winning goal against Hibs and reaction from fans in the street
Teenage defender ready for Boxing Day Edinburgh derby
Aaron Hickey provided the Hearts support with one of few joyous experiences this season with his winning goal against Hibs in September. No matter what the 17-year-old achieves in football, be it at Manchester City or elsewhere, memories of that shot looping over Chris Maxwell and into the Easter Road net will endure.
It remains unforgettable for all kinds of reasons, not least the dearth of genuinely euphoric Hearts moments since. Uche Ikpeazu’s stepovers in the build-up preceded Hickey’s deflected drive, which spun over goalkeeper Maxwell to secure a 2-1 win with six minutes remaining. The youngster’s unbridled delirium and screaming face created celebratory images that can never be erased.
Now comes an encore. At least, now comes the same opposition. There is no guarantee of Hickey repeating his feat at Tynecastle Park this afternoon but, were he to produce the unexpected a second time, it would be the most useful Christmas gift for Hearts fans.
Their team fell three points adrift at the bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership with Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Hamilton. The frightening possibility of relegation is becoming evermore possible by the week and, even at his tender age, the defender is acutely aware of his club’s predicament. Beating Hibs would be a fine tonic for a depressing run of form.
“When I think ‘Hibs’, I just think the atmosphere and everything surrounding the derby. It’s a massive game. The team has to be up for it,” said Hickey.
“It was a brilliant experience for me last time against them and hopefully I have more to come. I want better things but, obviously, it was a massive thing in my career so far.
“Before that game, people probably would recognise me in the street for playing in the Scottish Cup final. After I scored that goal at Easter Road, there was a big difference when I was out in the street and just going about the place. It’s more just a stare, really. People tend not to say too much. They just stare at you. I try to ignore it and it doesn’t really bother me too much.”
Of far greater concern is the fact Hearts have recorded just one away goal since Hickey’s shot rippled the Easter Road rigging more than 13 weeks ago. That was Oliver Bozanic’s consolation header at Hamilton on Saturday. There has also been a change of manager, with the German coach Daniel Stendel arriving after predecessor Craig Levein was sacked.
Two league wins in 19 have left the Edinburgh club in dire straits and Hickey does not shirk the issue. “I am a young lad but it doesn’t matter whether you are young or old,” he said. “You are in the team and, in the situation we’re in, you just have to try and do your best to get as many results as we can. It’s the full team, that’s everyone including me, even though I’m younger. I take the responsibility as well.
“The Hearts fans are good but recently it hasn’t been like usual because we haven’t been winning. That’s fair enough, to be honest. We haven’t had many good results this season and we are now bottom of the league. We definitely have to improve our form and get the fans back on our side.
“Anything can happen in the league and you just have to take what’s coming. Hamilton’s gameplan and St Mirren’s gameplan is to just try and get through the game and take a chance when it comes, which they did against us.”
Derbies are often frantic occasions which are not conducive to free-flowing football and this afternoon’s will almost certainly be no different. Hearts must prioritise points over panache if they are to preserve their Premiership status.
“It’s a wee bit of both. We try to play football but, when we are stuggling, we just have to try and get as many results as we can,” explained Hickey. “Hibs are doing better in the league now than last time we played them but you never know what is going to happen. A derby is a derby, it’s 50/50 chance for both us and them.”
Today will be Hickey’s 26th senior appearance, with 23 of those coming this season. The number of games have been demanding on a body which is still growing and, understandably, there are occasional bouts of tiredness taking effect. He is determined to soldier on and certainly does not want a rest today of all days.
The Premiership’s winter shutdown is just two games away, so after Hibs and Aberdeen he can take a well-earned rest.
“I feel alright. I’ve been a wee bit tired in training a few days,” admitted Hickey. “When it comes to the games, I know I need to be at my sharpest. If I’m not feeling at my sharpest, I will tell the coaches. I’m fine to continue playing. We only have a couple of more games until the break so we will see how it goes.
“I didn’t expect to have 22 games for Hearts’ first team at this point in the season when I’m only 17. I still change in the reserve dressing room with the younger boys but the gaffer is going to change the dressing room a bit. I don’t know what will happen, whether he will move players in who are playing regularly in the first team. Right now I’m still in the reserve changing room.”