Hibs players want to win it for the fans

Tom Taiwo challenges Hearts' Jamie Walker at Easter Road in December. Picture: SNS
Tom Taiwo challenges Hearts' Jamie Walker at Easter Road in December. Picture: SNS
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Sunday’s derby, so one argument goes, means more to Hearts than it does Hibs given the Easter Road outfit have the lure of a Scottish Cup final against Celtic to occupy their minds.

John Brown echoed that sentiment in accusing Pat Fenlon’s players of having “downed tools” following their epic semi-final triumph against Falkirk, the Dundee boss indulging in some mind games in attempting to provoke a response from the Capital club as they prepared to face the Dark Blues then relegation rivals St Mirren.

Such a notion, though, gets short shrift from Hibs midfielder Tom Taiwo who today insisted that, if anything, the hope of being one of those who run out at Hampden at the end of the month makes the fifth and final Edinburgh derby of the season all the more important to him and his team-mates.

There is, also, the little matter of Hibs having negotiated the four derbies to date without defeat, a record which, it goes without saying, Taiwo and Co want to see intact once the dust settles on Gorgie following what he anticipates will be another typically bruising affair.

The former Leeds United, Chelsea and Carlisle United star said: “People often think players are only focused on the carrot dangling at the end of the season, in this case the cup final.

“But we know if we want to be part of it all against Celtic then we have to play well in the matches beforehand regardless of who the opposition might be. The performance levels of each of us have to be as high as possible because no-one is guaranteed their place for Hampden.

“Above all, though, this is a game against our fiercest rivals – we know how much it means to the fans.

“We are aiming to go there, put on as good a performance as we can, hopefully win the match and in so doing we’ll have the supporters right behind us. The more positivity we can get going ahead of the final the better because come the final we want the fans to be part of it all.

“I remember when we played Celtic at Easter Road just after Christmas, the noise our supporters made and the lift they gave us.”

Fenlon has been keeping his players guessing as to his intentions for the final, chopping and changing his side in recent weeks as he seeks to strike that fine balance between giving them enough rest and game time in a bid to ensure they are as fresh as possible for the big day.

The emergence in recent weeks of Alex Harris and Danny Handling has added further competition within the squad while fellow teenager Ross Caldwell fired a “don’t forget about me” message to his manager with his first SPL goal against St Mirren.

Taiwo said: “I’ve heard people say Sunday’s game means more to Hearts than it does us because we’ve got the cup final to look forward to. I say the exact opposite.

“If the 11 who are picked for Sunday get turned over then the chances are they won’t be playing the next game. There’s two ways that can happen, by not playing well or showing a lack of commitment or desire.

“The manager will be watching closely to make sure no-one is resting on his laurels. We also want to finish as high up the table as possible, we want to be seventh if we can be and, to be frank, if you can’t motivate yourself for a derby against Hearts then you can’t count on playing in the big game at Hampden.”

Taiwo concedes Hibs’ league form hasn’t been great of late but, he insisted, there’s time in the next three matches for that sparkle to be regained and cup final places to be won.

He said: “Everyone is getting the chance to stake their claim at the moment. It’s up to each of us to cement that place or to at least force ourselves into the reckoning.

“The manager isn’t going to pick his cup final team on sentiment, he’ll be choosing the XI he feels will be best equipped to win on the day.

“It’s not about how you have played over the past six or seven months. You might have played 30 games this season but you need to keep working hard in training every day and doing as well as you can in the matches you are involved in.

“The gaffer has also shown faith in the young guys. Alex has done fantastically well as has Danny, while Ross came on against St Mirren and scored a great goal.

“We’ve got three last chances over the next few days, together with our training sessions to convince the manager we should be playing in what will be, for some players, the biggest game of their careers.”