Only one team can win the Edinburgh derby Scottish Cup replay - but which manager needs it more?
Why it’s Neil Lennon
There’s a popular meme going around that you may have seen. It changes every time, but the basic structure involves two photos, side by side, which are (usually) close-up profile shots of two men. Above the images, it reads: “you vs the guy she tells you not to worry about”.
For those who don’t get it, it’s supposed to relate to your own situation, or one from your past, where you were jealous of your wife/girlfriend’s ex, friend or work colleague. Deep down, you probably knew there was nothing going on, but that didn’t stop the doubt gnawing away at your sense of self-worth and hyping up your insecurities.
Right now, that’s Neil Lennon at Hibs. He’s the picture on the left. The “you”. The “she” is the Hibs support and, for the avoidance of doubt, Alan Stubbs is the one he’s told “not to worry about”.
Hibs fans love Stubbs, and with good reason. He’s the man who delivered Hibs the Scottish Cup after 114 years. It masked his inability to get the club out of the second tier - again, with good reason - and he promptly left before that legacy could be tarnished in any way.
It’s not that the Hibs fans don’t like Lennon. Most of them do. They find his honesty refreshing. Supporters prefer it when the manager comes out and slates the side after a bad game, and Lennon isn’t afraid of doing precisely that. But he’s not Stubbs. He’s not the man who delivered the Scottish Cup.
However, a win over Hearts, and a continuation of Stubbs’ fine work in derby games would go a long way to pushing Lennon up to similar levels of reverence as his predecessor, which he can then cement by winning the Ladbrokes Championship title.
Lose, however, and even a title victory may not be able to stop supporters from longing looking at old pictures of the man they used to have. A man who, oh by the way, is now free and single.
Why it’s Ian Cathro
“Hearts beat Hibs. That’s what we do.”
That’s not a quote this writer can attribute to any particular individual, but you know it’s been said by countless managers, players, coaches, fans and bar flies throughout the years. Hearts lord it over Hibs in derby matches and that’s the natural order of things.
That was until the last couple of seasons. Despite Hibs being at their lowest ebb and Hearts enjoying a rapid rejuvenation under Ann Budge, it has been the side from Easter Road that have edged Edinburgh derbies, and now hold a six-game unbeaten streak in the fixture. It’s the longest run for Hibs since 2001 as it stands, and will be the longest since the 1970s if they win the replay.
It was a hugely contributing factor in why Robbie Neilson was never properly embraced by the Hearts support in the manner his success outwith derby games deserved. He lost to Hibs in the Scottish Cup, an error compounded by the Easter Road club going on to lift the trophy. It was a massive blot on an otherwise pristine copybook.
Similar success for Hibs in this year’s competition is highly unlikely. The same goes for Hearts. Celtic are marching toward the treble and it’s hard to imagine anyone, let alone a Championship club, getting in the way of that. However, losing to Hibs in a similar manner to that of Neilson will taint Cathro before he’s really had the chance to establish himself as head coach.
The dismantling of Rangers, and then follow-up victory over Motherwell, earned Cathro some credit despite largely indifferent performances and results over the rest of his 11 games. That credit will disappear in an instant if the Tynecastle club exit tonight.
It’s Cathro. We saw what happened following the Hibs defeat last season. Civil war broke out among the Gorgie faithful, with two entrenched camps, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the Romanov era. The Cathro hiring and controversy stirred by members of the Scottish media (Kris Boyd) united the fans, but the split will appear once again if they lose tonight.
Furthermore, though Lennon may remain in the shadow of Stubbs if he loses, he’ll still have the rest of the season to earn the goodwill of the fans by clinching promotion to the top flight. If Hearts lose, it’s very likely the season could be over, especially if Rangers get their act together and bring in a decent manager.