Daryl Horgan admits he’ll be getting it tight in more ways than one at Tynecastle tonight as he tries to turn a deaf ear to the insults directed at him by Hearts fans while attempting to find a precious yard of space on one of the smallest pitches in the Premiership.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon contends that the “tightness” of the pitch in Gorgie – it measures just 100 yards long by 64 wide in comparison to Easter Road’s 112 yards by 74 – is one reason why visiting clubs find it so difficult to win there.
And as a winger, Republic of Ireland internationalist Horgan realises the more compact playing surface will make it harder for him to turn on the style.
He said: “It’s an extra two or three yards you don’t have every time you get the ball in a wide position. Because the pitch is tight everything condenses so much in the midfield and if you are used to the free-flowing football where you can open up and spray passes then it makes things more difficult.
“Every time you get the ball and want to turn there will be a body coming at you, again and again and again. They are used to that, it’s their home pitch and they have adapted, but we will have to get to grips with that very, very early in the game.
“Easter Road is a bigger pitch so it will be tricky for us, but we will have to adapt to the conditions and it might take us ten-to-15 minutes to be in and it might be quite scrappy until the game settles down.”
Horgan is well aware that having opposition supporters only a few yards away on either flank will have his ears burning, although he insisted: “You try not to listen to them.
“Thankfully the Scottish accent is very thick so I don’t always know what they are saying – but you do understand the tone.”
Horgan revealed his experience of derby matches is scant, clashes between Dundalk and Drogheda in his homeland and playing for Preston North End against Wigan during an ill-fated spell in English football.
He did disclose, however, that he has watched a number of Edinburgh derbies and although that’s only been from the comfort of his armchair, it has given him something of a flavour of what it’s all about.
He said: “I watch any game that is on and like every derby, there is that little bit extra. The ones I saw were exciting to watch, people go that bit further, try that bit more in a derby and the atmosphere and the tensions make them brilliant to watch and make them good TV.
“They have always been feisty affairs and I am expecting it to be an exciting game tonight. I think everyone likes that kind of atmosphere. When you retire you will think back to the big games, the derbies, the big nights and winning things. You don’t train all year to go under on big nights.
“I haven’t really played in any derbies. I suppose the only one really was Preston v Wigan, but Preson’s big derby is Blackpool. It is more locality than anything else. That was probably the biggest one but it wasn’t as tasty as I hear this one gets.
“In Ireland there was the Louth derby between Dundalk and Drogheda, there’s a bit of bite to it but you would only get abut 4000 there.”
Hearts go into the match looking to move 11 points ahead of their Capital rivals, who haven’t won at Tynecastle in five years, leaving Horgan to concede he and his team-mates face a potentially testing evening.
He said: “This is the strongest that Hearts have started in a long time. They have really hit the ground running this season and are top of the league, rightly so because they have been flying.
“We are going into their back garden but it will come down to us playing well and hopefully it will go our way and we can cut their lead at the top.”
Hearts striker Steven MacLean’s clash with Celtic midfielder Eboue Kouassi in Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final has grabbed the headlines since, but Horgan viewed it as nothing more than “a bit silliness” although it underlined the fact that players are unlikely to escape the all-seeing eye of the television cameras.
He said: “It hasn’t happened to me so I don’t know yet how I would react. It is just a bit of silliness, trying to get an extra edge, but this time the cameras have caught him. It’s not the nicest thing to do, but sometimes it happens.”
Horgan knows he and his team-mates have to avoid getting caught in any such situations themselves, saying: “You have to play with fire in your belly and ice in your head. It’s vital in any match.
“At no stage do you want to lose a man for silliness, naivety or downright stupidness, especially in a derby. The game is going to be so tight and any extra edge could make a big difference. To lose a man wouldn’t be paramount to disaster, but it would make it a helluva lot harder to win the game. We need to play without getting too sucked into it at the same time.”