Former manager Alan Stubbs insists any derby-day fear factor Hibs had has been well and truly banished in recent seasons.
Hearts have traditionally held the upper hand over their city rivals, but the Easter Road side go into Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth-round showdown at Tynecastle unbeaten in their last five meetings with the Jambos.
Stubbs oversaw all of those games before leaving for Rotherham United last summer and the Liverpudlian is confident that, with the majority of the squad buoyed by positive recent memories of the fixture, Neil Lennon is entitled to be optimistic about his chances of enjoying a positive result in his first Edinburgh derby in charge of Hibs this weekend. “When you look back at the two years we were there, we only got beat once by Hearts, and that was at Tynecastle [in August 2014] when Liam Craig missed a penalty to put us 1-0 ahead,” said Stubbs, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “We knew that Hearts had been the better team before we came and we knew there was always a thought process that Hearts had always had the upper hand over Hibs, and we felt that was something we needed to change.
“I think the mentality of the players definitely changed. I think there was probably a bit of doubt in their minds going to Tynecastle before and they were going there just hoping they could get a result, but they will go there now knowing they can get a result. As a player, that’s one of the best things you can have.”
Stubbs is adamant that Championship leaders Hibs have a strong enough mentality not to be fazed by the fact Ian Cathro’s new-look Hearts team have hit seven goals in back-to-back wins over Rangers and Motherwell in their last two games.
“I don’t think Hearts’ last two games will put any doubt into the minds of the Hibs players,” he said. “We’ve seen in the past where one team’s gone into a derby in really good form and the other’s maybe not been quite at top form, but the result ends up completely different to what you expect.
“There’s been wholesale changes at Hearts compared to what there has been at Hibs. Ian’s obviously come in with his own ideas and his own way of how he wants to play, and that will take time to evolve. He’s had really good success over the past week but I don’t think you can say after two really good results that they’re a fantastic team.
“There’s still a long way to go for Hearts in terms of adapting to the way Ian wants the team to play. The fact so many of the Hibs players have played in this fixture before and not many of the Hearts boys have could play a significant part.
“It won’t necessarily be about who’s in the best form. It’ll be about who deals with the pressure and the occasion best on the day. I think it’ll be a tight game between two teams trying to stamp their own style of play on each other amid a fantastic atmosphere.”
Sunday’s game represents a repeat of last season’s fifth-round showdown between the two Capital teams when Stubbs’ Hibs side famously came back from 2-0 down at Tynecastle to draw courtesy of late goals from Jason Cummings and Paul Hanlon. Cummings then struck the only goal of the replay before Hibs went on to win the Scottish Cup three months later.
Reflecting on that dramatic Tynecastle showdown a year ago, Stubbs said: “I was wondering how on earth we were 2-0 down because I thought we were playing well. I emphasised to the players at half-time that if they kept playing the way they were and took their opportunities when they came along, they would have a really good chance of getting back in the game.
“When I was speaking to them, I could see that they still believed, and that’s what gave me confidence. It was wave after wave of attack in the second half.
“I don’t think anybody who was at the game or watched it could argue that we weren’t the better team. A draw was the least we deserved. It’s easy to say that Hearts sat back and tried to protect a 2-0 lead but I think it was more a case of my team pushing Hearts back. At the end of that game, I think there was a real momentum shift in the tie.”
Stubbs, who will be at Tynecastle on Sunday as a pundit for Sky Sports, believes the fact Hibs no longer have talk of a Scottish Cup hoodoo to contend with can help them this weekend.
“If I was the manager right now, I’d fancy Hibs’ chances on Sunday,” he said. “I believed in that group of players and always believed they had a chance of beating anybody. The noose around the neck has gone in terms of the Scottish Cup so they don’t have to worry about that any more.
“All they have to worry about is getting one over their biggest rivals. I would love Hibs to win but it’ll be a really difficult game.”