Florian Kamberi has experienced every aspect of an Edinburgh derby – bar playing in one.
The Swiss striker was on trial with Hibs when they last faced Capital rivals Hearts but, much to his surprise, Easter Road boss Neil Lennon had him travel with his squad to Tynecastle.
And that gesture, admitted the 22-year-old, played a huge part in helping persuade him to agree a move to Edinburgh on loan from Grasshoppers Zurich.
That day in Gorgie, of course, ended in disappointment for Lennon and his players, a late Don Cowie goal knocking them out of the Scottish Cup and ending a run of nine derbies without defeat.
However, insisted Kamberi, it has simply left him desperate to run out at a packed Easter Road tomorrow night looking for the win which would take Hibs 12 points clear of Craig Levein’s side with a game in hand in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
“I have to admit I was a bit surprised last time,” said Kamberi. “I hadn’t signed for Hibs, I was only on trial but I travelled on the team coach from our hotel to Tynecastle. I was with the players, I had the kit.
“I don’t think it’s usual for someone who was in my position at that time to be in the dressing-room but I was there, seeing how everything works, hearing the manager’s pre-match talk. I saw the trust he had in me in having me there, as if I was already in the team.
“I felt in a good place and it definitely helped persuade me to sign. Obviously, the journey back was a bit subdued because we’d lost but I’d enjoyed the atmosphere and now I am excited to see a full-house at Easter Road. I’ve enjoyed playing in front of big crowds there against Motherwell and Aberdeen so I’m sure our fans will be even more passionate and excited for this one.”
Having arrived as a virtual unknown at a time when Hibs’ two top scorers, Simon Murray and Anthony Stokes, were leaving the club, Kamberi can understand why many fans might have been a bit wary of both him and Australian striker Jamie Maclaren, who had joined his new team-mates during their winter break in Portugal a few days before. However, with three goals in four games, Kamberi has quickly won them over although he knows full well that relationship will be strengthened immeasurably should he score against Hearts.
And, he revealed, he’s no stranger to a derby-day goal having claimed the winner as Grasshoppers defeated FC Zurich in only his second match as a professional football player. With the game in the Letzigrund Stadion looking as if it was heading for a 2-2 draw, Kamberi stepped from the bench with only four minutes remaining to claim the points.
He recalled: “I’d only made my debut the previous week against FC Thun and that had amounted to just the last minute on the pitch. I was a substitute again the next week but I came on, got a nice cross and scored with a header.
“I was a bit emotional and I didn’t know how to celebrate because if was only my second game as a professional player.”
However, as he points out, he now knows how to celebrate such moments although he was adamant he’ll happily sacrifice personal glory if it means Hibs take a step closer to their goal of Europa League football next season.
He said: “I marked my first derby with the winning goal and hopefully it will be the same tomorrow night. But the most important thing is we win. It doesn’t matter if I score the winning goal or goals or someone else does that, so long as we get the three points.
“It’s a big game but I think Hearts are under more pressure because they lost at the weekend, are nine points behind us and know we can go further in front of them. We are in a good zone at the moment, we haven’t lost in our last four and have beaten the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen so we are looking forward to this match.
“On a personal level, it’s started very well for me, we haven’t lost a game since I signed. I feel very comfortable at Hibs, I have good players around me which has made it much easier for me to settle in.”
Like Lennon, Kamberi hopes the near two-week break Hibs have had since drawing away to Kilmarnock doesn’t disrupt the momentum they’ve been enjoying or knock him out of his rhythm in front of goal.
He said: “As a striker, when you are scoring you want to play as often as you can so it was very frustrating for all of us that the game with Hamilton had to be postponed because of the weather. We were all looking forward to it given the run we are on but then we had three days when we also weren’t able to train because of the snow.”
However, thanks to the efforts of the club’s backroom staff and their youth players, the pitches at their East Mains base were cleared to allow Lennon’s players to get back to work, Kamberi confident that although they’ve been curtailed in terms of training it won’t be a problem come kick-off.
And he’s certain the highly-promising partnership which has almost immediately developed between him and Maclaren will continue to thrive, his team-mate having been given the ideal boost ahead of the derby by being named in new Australia coach Bert van Marwijk’s first squad which will begin their preparations for this summer’s World Cup in Russia with friendlies against Norway and Costa Rica later this month.
To date, Maclaren, on loan from German club Darmstadt with the stated intention of recapturing his place in his national side, has managed just one goal in a Hibs shirt albeit it was the winner from the penalty spot against Rangers.
But Kamberi has no doubts the 24-year-old, recipient of the golden boot Down Under last season thanks to his 20 goals in 29 games for Brisbane Roar, will soon be finding the back of the net on a regular basis.
He said: “I was delighted for Jamie. I think he’s maybe been a bit unlucky in front of goal, he might have scored two or three against Aberdeen the other week but he works for the team so the goals will come for him.
“The two of us have been doing well together. I’ve scored three in four but it could have been four or five. However, we know each other’s game, are aware of the runs we make and I think we are a good mix while we know that with the likes of Scott Allan, John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch behind us the chances will always come. Winning as a team is always the most important thing by far. You can score as many goals as you want but if you don’t win then it counts for nothing. But as a striker if you score and the team wins then it’s a double bonus.”