Considering the players available to the respective teams, it is pretty remarkable that Hibs are going into tomorrow’s derby as 2/1 outsiders with bookmakers.
With arguably one of the stronger squads in the league on paper, the Easter Road side, in normal circumstances, would have been strongly fancied to head across the city and fill their boots against an unproven young Hearts team bereft of a natural centre- forward.
However, that 7-0 mauling at home to Malmo a couple of weeks ago, has, perhaps understandably, had the effect of portraying Pat Fenlon’s men as hapless no-hopers, with some even tipping them for a relegation battle. Amid all the ‘Hibs in crisis’ talk of the past few weeks, though, it is hard to escape the feeling that Fenlon has actually assembled a pretty impressive squad.
Indeed, it is not unreasonable to suggest that, of those that take the field tomorrow, centre-back Danny Wilson would be the only Hearts player who would definitely get into the Hibs side, although Jamie Hamill and Kevin McHattie would also have decent claims to the full-back berths. Certainly in midfield and attack, Hibs look a far stronger proposition than their city rivals.
Although no world-beaters, Rowan Vine and James Collins have a significant advantage over Hearts’ front two of Ryan Stevenson and Callum Paterson as, first and foremost, they are natural strikers. TLikewise in midfield, an area in which Hibs should be looking to dominate. Liam Craig and Owain Tudur-Jones were both integral members of vibrant SPL teams last year and have beefed up a department of the squad which has become particularly strong under Fenlon. Tom Taiwo, meanwhile, finished last season well and looks like he could be a big player for Hibs this season.
But it is Scott Robertson and Kevin Thomson who really have it within them to rouse Hibs from their recent slumber. As recently as two seasons ago, any club possessing these two Scotland caps in midfield would be expected to challenge for second place. Having now settled at Hibs and enjoyed proper pre-seasons this summer, they are primed to start dominating matches again this term.
By contrast, the likes of Jamie Walker, Callum Tapping, Jason Holt and Scott Robinson have some way to go before they can be considered established top-flight midfielders.
Of course, football isn’t played on paper and there is no guarantee that the Hibs players will make their superior pedigree count, especially given the rousing effect a pumped-up Tynecastle crowd could have on Hearts’ exuberant youngsters. However, if the likes of Thomson, Robertson, Vine and Collins are in the mood tomorrow, logic dictates that Hibs should be too strong for their young hosts.