Derek Riordan: I’d have loved to put Hearts down

Derek Riordan's winning penalty in 2009 at Tynecastle was all too much for one Hearts fan, who came on the pitch to confront the then-Hibs talisman. Pic: SNS
Derek Riordan's winning penalty in 2009 at Tynecastle was all too much for one Hearts fan, who came on the pitch to confront the then-Hibs talisman. Pic: SNS
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Former Hibs hitman Derek Riordan today admitted he’d relish the opportunity to try and fire Hearts through the relegation trapdoor this weekend.

Should second-bottom St Mirren avoid defeat at Inverness on Saturday, Hibs will be able to finally condemn their administration-hit city rivals to the Championship in Sunday’s Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.

While Terry Butcher and his Hibs players won’t be making any grand boasts about relegating Hearts, the fans who have sold out the away end for this weekend’s showdown have made no secret of their desire to officially end their old foes’ stay in the top flight.

Riordan, Hibs’ most prolific striker since the 1970s, thrived on the chaos of the Edinburgh derby in his two spells at Easter Road, plundering seven of his 104 goals for the club in the fixture.

Always happy in his role as the man the Hearts fans loved to hate, the 31-year-old was in no mood to be diplomatic when asked what he’d make of the chance to help Hibs relegate their fiercest rivals on their own patch.

“As a Hibs fan and a player, I’d love to go out there and put the final nail in the coffin and relegate them,” Riordan told the Evening News. “It’s a massive game. It’ll go down in history if Hibs can put Hearts down.

“I would love the chance to play in a game like that. It’ll be brilliant to play in; it’ll be a mad day. Every derby’s the same – they’re always important games – but there would be nothing more special for the Hibs fans than Hearts getting relegated.”

With their team preparing to play out the season in the bottom six for the fourth year in succession, Riordan feels that Hibs, who have played second fiddle to Hearts for much of the modern era, owe it to their long-suffering fans to ensure they rise to the occasion and give them a positive memory from what looks like being their last visit to Tynecastle for at least a season.

“After all they’ve gone through, it would at least give the fans something back if Hibs could relegate Hearts,” said Riordan, who is now at Alloa Athletic.

“Since I was a wee boy growing up, Hearts have always been the stronger team until the past few seasons, when it’s got a bit more equal. The big money Hearts were spending was always going to catch up with them.

“It was just a matter of time, so in a way they deserve it.”

If Hibs are to give their fans something to shout about this weekend, they will probably have to do something they have managed only four times in the last 14 years: win at Tynecastle.

Riordan’s penalty against Csaba Laszlo’s high-flying side five years ago clinched arguably the most memorable of those triumphs in the eyes of Hibs fans with a 1-0 success.

“We didn’t have the strongest of teams out that night and we didn’t fill our end, which was disappointing,” Riordan recalled of that unlikely win for Mixu Paatelainen’s depleted team in May 2009.

“We were clinging on a bit at times, but eventually we got a penalty in the last 15 minutes and then we managed to hold on. It was a brilliant night, certainly my best at Tynie.

“Goals in derbies were always highlights for me, especially when we won.”

That night is best remembered by most for Riordan being confronted on the pitch by a crazed Hearts fan as he celebrated his goal in front of the Wheatfield Stand, although such hairy moments have done little to dampen Riordan’s fond memories of venturing into the lion’s den.

“Tynecastle’s always a good place to go,” he said. “I think every player will tell you that they look forward to going there because it’s such a good, intimidating atmosphere with the crowd close to the pitch.

“People always talked about going to play at Parkhead and Ibrox, but I always found playing at Tynecastle just as good. I really enjoyed playing there.

“The Hearts fans obviously aren’t too keen on me – it’s probably a blessing that I’m not involved on Sunday after what happened when I scored the winner there the last time.

“It’s good banter, though. I enjoy going there even though you get loads of stick. Some of it gets a bit nasty and some people take it a bit too far and forget that it’s just a game of football, but you just go along with it and have a laugh with them.”

While Riordan is bullish on his desire to see Hibs relegate Hearts, he is respectful of the promising youngsters who will be desperate to put the kibosh on Hibs’ party plans this weekend.

“It’ll be a really hard game for Hibs because they’re not exactly firing on all cylinders,” he said. “Hearts have got some good young players coming through and you have no fear when you’re young.

“There’s not much between the teams, so you can’t tell how it’s going to go.”

Having led the line in the most swashbuckling Hibs team of the modern era, it scunners Riordan to see his old team so frail that they can’t be viewed as obvious favourites against such a young and beleaguered Hearts side.

“It’s not exactly rocket science, you can see Hibs have not been playing well the last couple of seasons,” he said.

“If they didn’t have [Garry] O’Connor and then [Leigh] Griffiths over the last couple of years, things could have been a lot worse for Hibs.

“Griffiths probably kept us in the league. I think the players need to get the finger out and start playing and giving the fans what they deserve.

“To be honest, I’ve not been back since the 5-1 final. It hasn’t been good times from a fan’s point of view.”

Despite the sense of staleness at Easter Road these days, there remains a link to Riordan’s memorable first spell at the club in the early-to-mid noughties when he and Kevin Thomson and a raft of other emerging young boys took the old SPL by storm with their fearless, buccaneering football under Tony Mowbray.

Riordan would love to see his old colleague and fellow boyhood Hibby play a prominent role in a game which could have a big bearing on the derby landscape.

“It’ll be a big game for the local lads although I don’t think there’s that many players there now who are boyhood Hibs fans,” Riordan said.

“A few of them like wee Lewis [Stevenson] and Thommo have been there for years and know what it’s all about.

“In fact, I’d be glad if Thommo got the winner. He’s a really good player and, although he’s not played much recently, he was one of Hibs’ best players before he fell out the team.”