Stephen Elliott knows better than most players who have donned a Hearts jersey what Edinburgh derby dominance feels like.
The Irish striker scored in his first two games against Hibs – both at Easter Road in the 2010/11 campaign – and then proceeded to help the Tynecastle side to a clean sweep of four victories the following season, including the 5-1 Scottish Cup final win.
His own six-game unbeaten run against Hibs (five wins plus a dramatic draw at Easter Road with ten men) was part of a 12-match unblemished derby sequence for Hearts between November 2009 and August 2012. The tables have turned recently, however, with Hibs able to make it their longest undefeated derby run since the 1970s if they come through a seventh game in a row unscathed at home to Ian Cathro’s side in tonight’s Scottish Cup replay.
Elliott is eager to see what he views as normal service restored. “I knew at the time I was unbeaten against Hibs because, for a Hearts player, those are the special games,” the 33-year-old told the Evening News. “Before I went to Hearts, I didn’t know too much about Scottish football. But when I signed, everybody made you aware of the Edinburgh derby. Obviously I had Jim Jefferies and Gary Locke there, so they were quick to let you know how important the derbies are to the people.
“On the way to my first game at Easter Road, I learned pretty quickly how intense it was. I used to love hearing the fans sing the Hearts Song when we were out on the pitch before kick-off. As a player you want to win every game, but you know that the derbies are the ones that are important to the supporters. I found it harder to sleep before derbies. You have a bit extra nervousness about you and you find yourself going out there doing everything in your power not to let the fans down.
“We had some good experience in our squad and we just wanted to win so badly when the derbies came round. Winning became a habit for us. You want to win every game but I felt we had a bit more hunger about us when it came to the derbies. The final against Hibs was like do or die. I remember speaking to Ian Black and both of us knew it was our last game for the club. We were saying ‘there’s no chance in hell we’re going to lose’ because no matter what you’d done in a Hearts shirt before, that game was always what you were going to be remembered for.
“I’m sure the Hibs lads were desperate to win the derby as well, but the more you win, you get that mental edge. I don’t know what it must have felt like to be a Hibs player at that point because it felt like we had them. Especially in the cup final, going out the tunnel, they had some good quality players, but we just felt we had the edge on them. In most derbies I played, we were deserved winners.”
Elliott, who plays for Irish side Drogheda United, insists the current Hearts players must develop a similar win-at-all-costs mentality in order to reassert their authority in the derby tonight. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Hearts supporters will be getting a bit sick of coming out second best to Hibs in the derbies over the last few years,” he said. “But there’s no better place for Hearts to sort that out than at Easter Road. It would obviously help [head coach] Ian Cathro massively if he could get a win against Hibs in the cup. I think it would give him a bit more warmth from the supporters. They’re going to have to up their game a bit because in the first game, they didn’t produce the type of performance that there should be in a derby. I definitely think Hearts have the quality but they need to win their battles first because Hibs will be right up for it.”