Eight Hearts players are primed for their first derby experience of Easter Road tonight, with head coach Robbie Neilson adamant they will handle the occasion.
The William Hill Scottish Cup fifth-round replay promises to be an intense occasion between the Edinburgh clubs and Neilson stressed he has no fears about those making their Easter Road debuts in front of a 20,000 sell-out crowd.
Blazej Augustyn, Igor Rossi, Juwon Oshaniwa, John Souttar, Arnaud Djoum, Juanma Delgado, Abiola Dauda and Dario Zanatta will sample Hibs’ ground in a derby environment for the first time, with many of the above in line to start the match. Neilson must decide whether to begin with Souttar or Jordan McGhee beside Augustyn in central defence, with Rossi likely to play at left-back ahead of Oshaniwa.
Regardless of his team selection, Neilson is confident that stepping out in Leith will not faze anyone in maroon. “They will handle it,” he said. “These guys have played in massive games before. Dauda has played at Red Star Belgrade, Rossi has played at Sporting Lisbon and Benfica and all these places. Augustyn has played in Serie A so playing at Easter Road isn’t going to hold any issue for them at all. You can’t be nervous stepping out there when you have played at the San Siro.”
Neilson is similarly unruffled by bookmakers installing Championship side Hibs as favourites against their Premiership guests. “The bookies can say what they want. We’re quite comfortable and confident of going there and getting a result. It’s a derby match so it’s always going to be difficult but, with the squad and players we’ve got, we’ve got more than enough to go and win down there. There’s pressure no matter what side you are on in a derby. They’re always difficult games. We played well in the first game, got 2-0 up and then the players took the foot off the gas a bit and they’ve realised they can’t do that. In a cup game, when you’re 2-0 down, you’re as well losing by four or five because you’re out anyway so you can go gung-ho. We didn’t do the right things when it got like that.
“The crowd can work both ways. It depends how the game goes. It could make it more difficult or a lot easier. It will depend on the flow of the game. We hope to go there and stamp our authority on it. We want to silence the crowd and, if you do that, it can become a good place to go and play.”
Although enthusiastic about tonight’s tie, Neilson conceded he would prefer cup replays to be scrapped. “I would probably welcome it. I’d like to see it. There are a lot of games and it’s expensive for the fans to pay for extra matches. It would add to the drama as well, having extra-time and penalties. You would know right away there will be a winner on the day. We’ve got this game then it’s Dundee v Dumbarton next week so you still don’t know who is in the next round. Let’s play the game, get it done and move onto the next round. It would be good if we settled it on the day.”
Hearts have advised players to behave tonight to avoid needless bookings which may rule them out of subsequent rounds should they progress. Captain Alim Ozturk sits out through suspension having been booked twice in the Scottish Cup, while winger Sam Nicholson was cautioned in the first game for celebrating in front of Hibs fans who were goading him.
“Players score goals in football and do silly things,” said Neilson. “It’s part of football but we want them to keep their discipline and try not to get booked because Sam got booked in the cup game. If you pick up two bookings then you miss the next round. If we get to the semi-final and Sam gets booked then it would come back to haunt him and he would miss the final if we got there.
“You hope they don’t do silly things. I get things chanted at me - it’s part and parcel of football. If you’re at a big club, people shout at you. You have to accept it and silence them by scoring goals. I say that to all my players, they all know that. The players need to go out there and try and concentrate on the football match, especially in big games like an Edinburgh derby where there is a lot of noise in the background and build-up.”