Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu has been backed to flourish in the Edinburgh derby cauldron as he prepares to face Hibs for the first time today.
The in-form 24-year-old will lead the home side’s attack at Tynecastle this afternoon after recovering from the head knock – sustained against Aberdeen last weekend – that caused him to miss the 3-0 defeat away to Rangers on Wednesday.
Management, team-mates and supporters alike are hopeful that the bruising, chaotic, highly-charged nature of the Capital derby will play into the hands of the powerful Ikpeazu, who missed both previous meetings with Hibs this season due to a foot injury.
“Uche seems to enjoy everything,” said manager Craig Levein. “He has a smile on his face all the time. I’m sure he will relish it. You can’t always be certain how people will react in this game but I think he will be fine.
“He thrives on the atmosphere out here. He loves this place and they love him. That procession the other day when he got wheeled round the pitch (after getting injured against Aberdeen), they were throwing roses at him.”
Hearts midfielder Olly Lee reported that his team-mate is “buzzing” for his first taste of the Capital’s showpiece fixture. “I think Uche will love it,” he said. “I have been giving him a bit of banter, saying: ‘You don’t like playing in the derbies, do you!’ He’s missed a few. He’s buzzing. He’s a big character in the dressing room and he’s looking forward to it and it will be good to have him out there with us.
“He’s a big, powerful specimen and people can’t deal with him, so hopefully he will have another big performance tomorrow and that will help us towards another three points.”
Lee admits he has sympathy for the burly Ikpeazu as he feels is subjected to rough treatment from defenders and not given enough protection from referees due to his size.
“It’s what you get with different players with different physiques - Peter Crouch used to get it as well,” said Lee. “In my opinion, Uche gets harsh treatment a lot of the time but he has to keep his head down and keep working hard like he did on Saturday where he had a few decisions go against him.
“He managed to put it behind and score the winning goal which is the most important thing and that’s what you get remembered for. Sometimes you have to have a quick little word with him to make sure he keeps his head but it must be so hard, he gets kicked from pillar to post in every game.
“He takes it all in good spirits and the best way to show people is by scoring the winning goal. That’s what we try to keep in his head, that goals win games. He loves it, he thrives off it and he enjoys the love the fans have towards him so long may it continue.”
In addition to having Ikpeazu back today, Hearts will be boosted by the return to action of the versatile defender Michael Smith following two months out injured.