Hibs boss Shaun Maloney relaxed ahead of Tynecastle test as he discusses quiet confidence

If Shaun Maloney is feeling the heat ahead of an Edinburgh derby with even more riding on it than usual, he isn’t showing it.

Saturday, 9th April 2022, 7:00 am

In fact, the Hibs boss appears more comfortable than usual as he looks ahead to a match that could have significant ramifications for his club on and off the pitch.

“There are different factors to the game. I think it’s important that the focus has only been on the performance of the team,” he says.

“In terms of the budget, that can wait until after the semi-final. These are two such big weeks that we probably just have to focus on getting the results."

Shaun Maloney was all smiles in training ahead of the first of two huge derby encounters for Hibs

It all seems very straightforward: pick up two results against a Hearts team who tied up third place a long time ago and would presumably relish the chance to block their rivals from a top-six berth and dump them out of the Scottish Cup at Hampden – again – inside seven days.

Presumably, then, it will be attack, attack, attack in Gorgie?

"In every game, whether we play Celtic or Rangers; Dundee, St Johnstone or anyone, we prepare to win the game. That doesn’t change,” he adds.

"We try to attack the team and we try to do that with the ball if we can. That is how we are trying to evolve.

Harry Clarke gets instructions from Maloney at HTC - he will be one of three, possibly four players making their derby bow

"We have had a lot of the ball but it is up until that final third where we haven’t created as much as we can. Against Dundee United, that changed.

"I really feel that will be the difference in the game this weekend. We will create chances and how clinical we can be will determine the result.

"I feel comfortable in terms of how we will perform and how we compete. It will just be in those moments that we have to be at a better level.”

The first derby of the 2021/22 season was back in September, which feels a lifetime ago. Jack Ross was still in charge of Hibs who started with Martin Boyle and Kevin Nisbet up top and Kyle Magennis in midfield.

None of them will feature in this game, Boyle having been sold to Saudi Arabian side Al-Faisaly while Magennis and Nisbet are both out injured. Ryan Porteous is also sidelined through suspension while Demi Mitchell will also miss out through injury.

Some new faces could experience their first derby action this weekend. Some performed admirably last time out in February – most notably man of the match Kevin Dabrowski, who pulled off a string of saves to deny Hearts at Easter Road – and the onus will be on the likes of Harry Clarke, Sylvester Jasper, and Elias Melkersen to produce similar performances at Tynecastle.

"If we show what we did in the last derby – and physically, we are even better – I know the performance is going be good,” Maloney states.

Physicality features heavily in his pre-match comments. He feels his side matched Hearts in terms of physicality in the last game and he believes that will play a big part in a successful Hibs result this weekend. But he is also confident that his side are in an even better position to compete.

"The physicality of the team against Dundee United last time out was as high as we have been all season,” he reveals.

"Physically, our data was as high as it has been all season so the players have worked extremely hard even in the international break. They couldn’t be in a better physical condition getting ready for this game.

“Players can make mistakes in games but the bare minimum they have to do is compete,” he adds.

“And I think that’s what I loved in the last performance, even from some of our most technical players. Joe Newell was just a monster, physically, in that game.

“But that was a really big thing for us, we felt that physically we matched them. In that last derby, I learned a lot about my squad in terms of that competitiveness and desire not to lose.”

So physicality, being clinical in the final third, having a desire not to lose – surely bravery comes into it as well, whether it’s in defence or on the ball?

"It’s all about bravery but there are different kinds,” Maloney points out.

“There is the bravery that we showed to match their physicality, and then there is the bravery we showed against Dundee United: when we were under pressure, we had to play.

"Those two things will be absolutely vital to the game. Something we have spoken about for a lot of weeks is how clinical we are in the final third and if we can find that, it will be a big factor in the game.”

Some might find it surprising that Maloney appears so calm and so collected ahead of such a huge match but if it can rub off on his players, it could make all the difference.

"I have to detach from the other situations but I see positives in the team,” he tells the Evening News. “We’re hard to beat now – we’ve lost what, one in nine? But I also know the balance has to be better. We’re very good defensively but we haven’t got that same level in attack.

"That’s what makes me stay quite even – I understand why we’re not winning games, but I also understand why we are now very hard to beat.

"We’ve put a lot of work into being better defensively and the structure we now have and it’s the same with the attacking play.

"We’ve worked very hard on what it looks like for us in the final third and it is a work in progress.”

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