Brandon Barker admits the hope of perhaps derailing Hibs’ bid for second place in the Premiership table might give Hearts that little bit extra motivation in tonight’s derby.
But, he insisted, Craig Levein’s players don’t need it as such clashes are must-win games regardless of the circumstances.
The on-loan Manchester City wing king revealed he was rather ignorant of the importance of such occasions in Edinburgh when he first arrived in the Capital, but now he revels in the matches with Hearts as much as team-mates such as life-long Hibs fans Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon.
Although Neil Lennon’s side have held the upper hand over their city neighbours this season, Barker has enjoyed mixed fortunes, victory at Easter Road thanks to Simon Murray’s early strike, Oli Shaw’s “ghost goal” which robbed Hibs of a win on their first visit to Tynecastle and the heartache of conceding a late goal in Gorgie only a few weeks later in the Scottish Cup.
And he also endured the mixed emotions of watching his team-mates’ 2-0 win on their own patch last time the Capital rivals met from the stand, ruled out through injury.
Asked about his derby experiences, the 21-year-old said: “It’s been class, especially my first game. That was unbelievable, one of my best experiences up here.
“In the second game, I think I played about three minutes because I got injured. The third one we lost, which was gutting, conceding that late header. But it’s been class, you step on the pitch and straight away you feel the atmosphere. You now how much it means to the fans and the players.
“There was definitely a disappointment, but that’s football. You win and lose derbies all the time. Because the game is so important, it hurts a bit more.
“I was in the stand when we won 2-0, it was good and disappointing at the same time because I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to hear Sunshine on Leith at the end.
“The atmosphere was great that night, as it has been at both grounds on derby day. It’s always better when the game is at night as well. The boys dominated that night, there was only one winner from the start.”
Barker, however, believes tonight’s match will be, like this season’s other derbies, a tighter affair, although Lennon’s players will, as always, be going for the win.
He said: “If you look at the league, we are fighting for second, but the derby comes first. It’s a must-win game every time, no matter what. Even though this game’s got a lot at stake, we are just going to go for it.
“The fact we’re going for second will be their little bit of extra motivation, but they don’t really need it. It’s Hibs versus Hearts, the Edinburgh derby, a must-win game for both clubs.”
Given how tight the previous encounters have been, Barker admitted the first goal – if there is to be one – could prove crucial, but he insisted if it were to come Hibs way he wouldn’t see it as a crushing blow for Hearts even if they go into this match 20 points behind and knowing the can do no better than finish in sixth place.
He said: “I wouldn’t say that would be deflating. When it’s a one-goal scoreline anything can happen, especially in a derby.
“If we were 3-0 up, they would still be having a right good go. There’s too much pride on the line to just fall. But hopefully we’ll get the first goal and the first goal will be really important.”
As a City fan Barker has grown up on Manchester derbies and as such he concedes he was ignorant of the Edinburgh version. He said: “My friends don’t know how big it is. Some of my family came to the first one and they were just blown away with the atmosphere and stuff. Even I didn’t know it was that big coming from down south. And when you are a part of it, it’s fantastic.”
Barker watched City’s Premiership title celebrations last weekend and admitted he’d love to have his own party tonight, knowing Sunshine on Leith won’t be blasting down from the Tynecastle tannoy system but convinced the Hibs support will provide their own lusty version.
He said: “Again, it’s something I didn’t know about until we won at Easter Road and it came on. There’s no better feeling than when your fans are all together and we’re all singing it.”
Hibs’ hopes of overhauling Aberdeen and Rangers in the race for second place don’t, of course, rest entirely on tonight’s match, although the result will have an impact on that fight with the Ibrox club due at Easter Road on the final day of the season.
But, insisted Barker, even if Lennon’s players were to fall that little bit short, it would still have been an impressive season. He said: “It depends what way you look at it.
“What we have done already has been phenomenal for a club that has just come up. We have gone head-to-head with the top four. Now that we can see we can do it, there’s no reason not to go for it. If we can do it, it will be a massive achievement for Hibs.”