Robbie Neilson hoping for champagne Sunday visit to old team-mates Lee Johnson and Jamie McAllister in Hibs-Hearts derby
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson hopes to visit his Hibs counterpart Lee Johnson bearing champagne at the end of Sunday’s Edinburgh derby.
Text messages between the former Tynecastle team-mates stopped soon after Johnson and assistant Jamie McAllister were appointed at Easter Road in May. Hibs’ first home league fixture is against their greatest rivals and Neilson is eager for Hearts to make their mark in Leith.
“Just after Lee took the job we had a wee text back and forward. I haven’t spoken to him or texted him for a while now,” Neilson told the Evening News. “Once you get into the games you are busy all the time and you don’t really get a chance. I will see him after the game on Sunday.
“When you go into these games, friendships and all that stuff goes out of the window. It’s about making sure we win the game for Hearts. I will probably pop in and see them at full-time – hopefully with the champagne.
“Hibs are a good team with a number of new players. As ever, you go into a derby and the form of the last five or six games goes out of the window. We are away from home and need to make sure we are at it to get a result.”
Hearts defender Stephen Kingsley has not trained this week and remains a major doubt with a hamstring injury, but winger Josh Ginnelly is available and midfielder Cammy Devlin could start.
“Devlin is fine, Ginnelly is back in full training and the rest of them are good. Stephen is still touch-and-go. It’s just a case of deciding what the best team is,” said Neilson.
New arrivals Alan Forrest, Kye Rowles, Lewis Neilson, Jorge Grant and Lawrence Shankland could all sample an Edinburgh derby for the first time. Only Alex Cochrane of this summer’s signings has played in one previously.
“Forrest, Shankland, Neilson and Cochrane have all been to Easter Road before,” said Neilson. “Grant hasn’t but he has played in big games down in the English Championship. Rowles has played World Cup qualifiers at international level.
“We will make sure they all understand the magnitude of the derby from the fans’ perspective. We all want the bragging rights for the city but we also need to make sure we are level-headed enough to stay on the pitch.
“The players all live in the city so they all know what’s going on anyway. They experience the build-up. You can feel it already with the press and the intensity before it. I think they are all looking forward to it.”
Neilson will implore Hearts to start with purpose against Hibs. His team looked overwhelmed against Ross County in the first half of last weekend’s opening Premiership match, although they eventually won 2-1.
“At half-time there was a realisation of where we were and what we had to do. We kicked on from there,” said the manager. “We need that from the start on Sunday. We have to impose ourselves on the game.
“One of the great things about the Edinburgh derby is we still have a full stand of away fans in comparison to what happens in Glasgow. Our fans will be making noise and helping us so we have to bring energy to them as well.”