Efe Ambrose insists taking a smack in the face is simply an occupational hazard for defenders.
The Hibs stopper caught a stray hand in the mouth from Hearts striker Kyle Lafferty during the first Edinburgh derby of the season and will today face Motherwell striker Ryan Bowman, the focus of Rangers’ fury after his elbow broke Fabio Cardoso’s nose in their Betfred Cup semi-final.
But while admitting it hurt at the time – Ambrose needed a lengthy spell of treatment before continuing – the Nigerian internationalist says such incidents are purely part of the game.
“For me it’s a challenge, you have to match it. They want to win every ball, in the air, on the ground. Sometimes you get caught, it happens to strikers and defenders but it is not always intentional.
“Strikers try to block you and get in front of you, but it’s just part of the job. It’s a man’s job and the tackles only make you stronger.”
Ambrose didn’t watch the Hampden clash between Motherwell and Rangers but is well aware of the fall out. However, he is adamant the Fir Park outfit aren’t over-physical, more a hard-working side as they showed earlier in the season when they came from 2-0 to snatch a draw thanks to two goals from striker Louis Moult.
The former Celtic player said: “After playing them at home I recognise they are a team who are very well organised and they work hard. They fight for every ball.
“With their style of play people think they are crazy, but that’s their style and you cannot take it away from them. You have to match them in those areas.
“They do not like to keep possession, they prefer to go long to their strikers because they’ve had a pattern of play around a 3-5-2 system for a long time and are well organised and try to tackle and win every ball.”
Ambrose claimed, though, that he and fellow centre back Paul Hanlon had plenty of practice of countering that same tactic as they won the derby 1-0.
He said: “Paul and I knew we would have to deal with long balls, which is one of their strengths, so they had to look for the second option and I don’t think they had one in plan. That really helped us overcome them and we kept the ball and enjoyed the game, especially at home.”
The victory over Hearts, one which stretched Hibs’ unbeaten record against their Capital rivals to eight matches was, insisted Ambrose, one to boost morale within Easter Road, the win only their second in the Premiership at home this season.
He said: “We hadn’t been winning at home for a few weeks which had been a concern for us at the club.
“We just wanted to win the derby, after losing to Celtic in the cup semi-final the only way we could put a smile back on the fans faces was by wining the derby which is very important to them.
“We proved we are the best of the two clubs in Edinburgh and it’s challenges like this that bring out the best in us as players. It was a great win and we played as we hadn’t before, with a strong mentality all over the pitch.
“We did well to keep the clean sheet too; we knew if we kept it secure at the back the one goal would give us the three points. So we were focused and determined to make sure we got it right.”
Ambrose and Hanlon were singled out for their performances against the Jambos, but the 29-year-old said: “It’s not just us, it’s a team sport.
“We defended brilliantly as a team because we are together, there was a good structure and organisation to our team.”