David Marshall speaks on Hibs form, the split, Steven Naismith Hearts factor, away fans, and a must-win Edinburgh derby
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But the Hibs captain and goalkeeper left his homeland for a lengthy sojourn in the English leagues before it was brought in, and with this being his first season back in Scotland he will finally get a taste of something new which, at his age, is something of a rarity.
"This is the first time I have been involved in the split, and it’s almost a run-in before the run-in,” he says, previewing the visit of Hearts in what will be a game of mammoth importance for both sides.
"You need to put yourself into position and it’s just the last two performances that have let us down. We are confident that if we play well then we can get enough points in the last two to put ourselves there, then that puts us in a position to influence the European places. We just need to go and perform well on Saturday."
Marshall has already played in three Edinburgh derbies since signing a two-year deal with Hibs but is yet to win one, having experienced a last-gasp draw on his debut in the fixture, while January brought with it consecutive 3-0 defeats, one at Tynecastle in the league and another at Easter Road in the Scottish Cup.
“The Edinburgh derbies [earlier this season] were probably seen as derbies and that was it,” he continues. “Everybody probably thought that if points were dropped then, we could still make them up. But this one has extra significance with both teams going for their end goal. We have not done enough yet to guarantee ourselves top six so we need to make these points count, while Hearts are a few points ahead of us and looking at third and fourth spot. It’s always a huge game anyway, regardless of when it is, but it probably has even greater significance at this stage.”
Marshall is wary of what former international team-mate Steven Naismith can bring to the table, having been appointed interim Hearts boss on a temporary basis. Describing him as a ‘winner’, the 38-year-old admits to a touch of intrigue ahead of the crunch encounter.
"The honest answer is that we just don't know how Steven is going to set up. It will be a different Hearts but it will be interesting to see what he does and how he is on the touchline. He was a good team-mate to have and he is a winner; he’s animated and he has now had that coaching experience with the national team as well. He has been at Hearts for a few years now so he will see it as a good opportunity for him.”
Knowing him better than most, Marshall believes it was merely a matter of time before the former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton, and Norwich forward gravitated towards the coaching side of things when it became clear his playing days were on the wane.
“He was always opinionated in the right way. It’s not surprised me that he has moved into coaching and management, stepping into Robbie’s shoes for the remainder of the season. I haven't spoken to him in terms of what he wants to do going forward but you would think management was the ultimate goal. The derby won't faze him at all. He’s confident enough to take that on. I’m sure the last few years he will have pulled things together in his own mind about how he would want to set a team up so I’m sure they will be ready, but our focus should be on us and on us performing well because we have been pretty poor in the last couple of games.”
Midfielder Robert Snodgrass was already suspended for the game following his red card last weekend against St Mirren and rumours of his impending exit from Tynecastle have been gathering pace in recent days. But despite Naismith taking the reins, Marshall is wary of expecting wholesale changes and insists Hibs have to take care of themselves.
"If we play well at our stadium then I think we are a handful for most teams,” he adds. “The disappointment has stemmed from the last two games really. Before that we were on a good run of form performance-wise before the break but we have not carried than on. It wasn't too long ago that we were playing well and top six looked well within our sights and we have let ourselves down in the last couple. But we have an opportunity on Saturday to go again.”
Marshall is also pleased that there will be a packed away end for the showdown, insisting that it adds something to the atmosphere, and having played in numerous derbies. He describes the current battle over locked-out away fans for the Old Firm matches as ‘unfortunate’.
“I think even Hibs fans relish having Hearts fans there because it is an opportunity, if you beat them, to goad them. It adds to the atmosphere and football is for the fans. For me, it definitely takes something away from the experience if there are no away fans there,” he says.
“A derby means as much regardless of club and size of the crowd. I’ve played in Swansea v Cardiff, Celtic v Rangers, and Hibs v Hearts means just as much. It’s such a big city, the two clubs are massive, and you can feel that animosity. The big away crowd helps as well. It’s a huge occasion and a fantastic atmosphere. As a player you feel that edge and you take a bit of stick. When Martin Boyle equalised in my first derby, I’d taken stick for 45 minutes straight until then. But that’s football. That’s why the fans want to go. Unfortunately I’ve not experienced the good side of it yet so hopefully I can do that on Saturday,” he adds.