Alex Miller believes Hibs will go a long way to winning Friday’s Edinburgh derby if their defence can keep Hearts talisman Kyle Lafferty quiet.
The Northern Irish striker is the focal point of the Tynecastle side’s attack and is also their top scorer with 16 goals this season.
Former Easter Road manager Miller has watched Hearts several times in recent months and feels that if Hibs are able to cut off the supply to Lafferty then they will take a big step towards nullifying their city rivals in the Leith showdown.
“Lafferty, for me, is a key man for Hearts because he’s their main striker,” Miller told the Evening News. “They tend to play him up and one off him. You’ve got to try and stop the ball getting to him and not allow him to gain possession because if he does that, the other players around him look to penetrate and play off him. If he doesn’t get possession, the players round about him won’t make the runs.
“You’ve got to stop the ball into him and deny him room in the box because Hearts like to get bodies forward and Lafferty is the springboard for them to counter-attack. Hibs have got the players to cope with him though. Defensively they have done fairly well this season. Hanlon, McGregor and Efe Ambrose seem to have a good agreement with each other – they understand when to attack the ball or when to drop off.”
Hibs will be aiming to reassert their recent superiority in the Edinburgh derby after their nine-game unbeaten run in the fixture was ended by Hearts in the Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle in January. The Easter Road side can go 12 points clear of their Capital rivals with a game in hand if they win on Friday. “I think, with the way Hibs have been playing, they would have to be slight favourites,” said Miller. “They’ll go in confident and they have players like Scott Allan who can create things. But in this type of game the favourites tag counts for nothing – it’s about how the two teams play on the day. The first 20 minute is very important in terms of whether either team can get on the ball and take chances on the ball. It will be a physical game and I think it looks very even. But the game being at Easter Road is a big factor in Hibs’ favour. They’ve had good success in the recent derbies at Easter Road and they’re ahead of Hearts in the league, so I feel they have got a slight edge.”
Miller managed Hibs between 1986 and 1996 – a period which incorporated Hearts’ 22-game unbeaten run in the Edinburgh derby. The 68-year-old feels his underwhelming record in the fixture can largely be attributed to Hearts generally operating with higher-calibre players.
“I didn’t mind the Edinburgh derby but some of my players didn’t enjoy it – they made mistakes,” said Miller. “Hearts had a good run against us but I always felt we caused them a lot of problems and never capitalised when we were on top in games, then Hearts would go up the park and score. Wee Robbo (John Robertson) was a prolific striker. I think Hearts had seven internationalists in their team back then – there was a real difference in quality.”