Jamie Walker believes resurgent Hearts are equipped to banish their recent Easter Road woes in tomorrow night’s Edinburgh derby.
The Tynecastle side have lost on their last three visits to Leith amid a seven-game run without a win over Hibs. However, Hearts will now head across the Capital for the first derby of the season in upbeat mood after Saturday’s victory over St Johnstone lifted them above their city rivals and into fifth place in the Premiership.
Walker is buoyed by the fact his side are going into the match on the back of consecutive victories and having lost only one of their six games under Craig Levein. Hibs, meanwhile, have won only one of their last seven league fixtures. “It always gives you a boost when you move up the table, so it’s set us up nicely for the derby,” the midfielder told the Evening News. “Hibs have had a lot of praise so far and we’ve had quite a stop-start season, so for us to be ahead of them is a big boost. We’re quite confident we can go down there and get a result because we’ve got a really good squad this season and we’re picking up some good results, but we know it’ll be a hard game.”
Walker, a boyhood Hearts fan who grew up accustomed to his team holding the upper hand in derbies, admits not defeating Hibs in the last three years has been difficult to take. Amid this run, his team’s last three visits to Easter Road have ended in defeat, including Scottish Cup fourth-round replays in each of the previous two seasons. The most recent of those, eight months ago, was particularly chastening for Walker as he was part of a team made up predominantly of recently-recruited foreigners that was obliterated under Ian Cathro. The meek manner of that 3-1 loss left the homegrown 24-year-old devastated and deflated. As one of only two players likely to remain in the starting line-up from last February – Esmael Goncalves is the other – Walker is confident that Hearts are now made of significantly stronger stuff now, and that there will be no repeat of that capitulation tomorrow.
“The last few games down there have been tough to take,” he said. “I don’t read too much into the seven-game run because a lot of those games were draws, but the games at Easter Road haven’t been good enough. The one last season was really tough because we had too many players who didn’t seem to understand what was needed. I felt like some people were looking to me to lead the team that night but you need everyone to be together in a derby. We just got overrun that night. I feel like we’re in much better shape now. It’s a totally different group of players and we’ve got a stronger squad now. We’ve got boys like Christophe Berra who’s played in this derby before, Kyle Lafferty’s played in the Old Firm derby, Ross Callachan’s a Hearts fan so he knows what it’s all about, and so does the gaffer. We’ve got a really good group of boys and you can see with the results we’re getting that we’re much harder to beat than we were last year.”
Levein, meanwhile, is relishing managing Hearts in a derby for the first time since defeating Hibs 2-1 at Tynecastle in October 2004. “I think it’ll be really difficult, but I do love these matches,” said the manager. “I have brilliant memories of playing in the derby and I really look forward to it. It’s what makes this job exciting – the opportunity to play in front of big crowds and for there to be a lot of pressure on. That’ll be the case in this match. I’m not guaranteeing we’ll win the game but we’ll be trying our best and we’ll be working as hard as we possibly can.”