Hibs coach: So much riding on Under-20s derby
At any level an Edinburgh derby carries that little bit more of an edge. But in today's match between Hearts and Hibs there's an even greater incentive with both Capital clubs eyeing the SPFL Development League title.
As things stand before kick-off at Oriam (1pm), the Easter Road youngsters are in pole position, three points clear at the top of the table but knowing the kids from Gorgie, Dundee, Aberdeen and Celtic are all aiming to topple them before the season is over.
Hearts go into the match nine points adrift of their city neighbours and while they have two games in hand, they’ll know defeat will, in all probability, end their title hopes.
And it is games such as this and with the whiff of glory in the nostrils which, admits Hibs coach Grant Murray, inset, that winning becomes the be all and end all for everyone involved. “As a player, whether a youth player at Hibs or Hearts, at boys’ club level or whatever, there comes a point when stuff matters. Being a derby it will attract a bigger crowd than a normal development game so getting a result will be a big thing.
“They know it’s getting close but there are four or five teams who could go on and win the league, but a lot of them have to play each other.
“There’s Dundee, Aberdeen and Hearts behind us and while Celtic are a wee bit back they have games in hand so you can’t write them off.”
Hibs not only have hopes of the league title but of making it a double having made the semi-finals of the SFA Youth Cup where Celtic, who knocked them out in last season’s quarter-finals, await.
Murray’s youngsters also went close in the league a year ago, topping the table for much of the season – as they have this time round – only to fall away. However, that experience, he believes, will stand them in good stead.
He said: “We know the stakes. They are doing very well in the league and have had a good cup run similar to last season. But we know from that experience it can change very quickly so they have to make sure they don’t get over-excited or confident about a game because you can lost that edge and concentration.
“It’s a very similar squad of players, I think only Josh Campbell has come in. Kevin Dabrowski was here last year, but not for the whole season. We sat top of the league for the majority of last season but a couple of results hindered us, at home to Ross County and away to them and they went on to win the league.
“Credit to County, no-one can take it away from them. For our guys it was disappointing but we’ve said to the young boys that it’s a big thing winning medals at any level because it doesn’t always happen. Just because it is a development league or cup takes nothing away from it, that’s the competition you are playing in so they are important games.
“I was fortunate enough myself to win the youth cup and the old reserve league as a young boy. It was a great feeling to go to Ibrox and beat Rangers at a time when everyone thought them and Celtic won everything at every level. I think what last season has done has been to knit them together as a group. There have been games in which they’ve let themselves down but they have set standards and that’s what we look for, consistency and maintaining those standards.”
Hibs will be without Ryan Porteous and Fraser Murray, on international duty with Scotland’s Under-19 squad as they bid to reach the finals of their European Championship, but Murray believes seeing them and striker Oli Shaw become regular members of Neil Lennon’s first-team squad, spurs on others.
Pointing out that both Sean Mackie and Ben Stirling have also been in and around Lennon’s squad, Murray said: “Oli, Ryan and Fraser have worked hard, but it’s attitude, performances and the way they train that’s got them there. They are there on merit and it’s important other see that.”
Although development league rules allow over-age players to be involved, such has been the performances of the Hibs kids that few from the first team have been used although Murray admitted should Lennon feel any are in need of a run-out ahead of Saturday’s Premiership match against Partick Thistle then that would be taken into consideration.
He said: “It’s the younger boys who have been playing week in, week out. For the majority of games it’s been the same players we have used.
“Most of our boys are from the Edinburgh area and know the importance of a derby, no matter what age, it’s a derby.”