Rowan VINE chooses his words carefully when he talks of Sunday’s derby at Tynecastle as a “must-win” game, conscious that applying such a description to the first meeting of the season with Capital rivals Hearts is likely to be taken out of context.
While there is little doubt the match is being viewed by some as precisely that given Hibs have lost their opening three competitive games of the season, conceding ten goals and scoring none, a sequence of results which some would have you believe has put boss Pat Fenlon’s position under threat, Vine sees the encounter for exactly what it is.
Regardless of the circumstances, insisted the striker, a derby game is always a “must win,” adamant the only pressure on him, his team-mates and Fenlon is to ensure Hibs finish as high up the new-look Scottish Premiership table as possible.
Accepting the Easter Road outfit have not got off to the greatest of starts, the 9-0 aggregate Europa League mauling by Malmo still casting a dark cloud over the club, the situation exacerbated by that late goal by substitute Henri Anier which earned Motherwell victory on the first day of the league campaign, Vine believes the reaction in some quarters has been a touch wild.
As he looked forward to his first taste of an Edinburgh derby, the much-travelled frontman said: “Of course it’s a big one this weekend. We were a bit deflated after losing a game which looked as if it had 0-0 written all over it and we want to perform in the next one which just happens to be one of the biggest of the season.
“It’s a good opportunity, the boys are confident and they want to go there, be positive, get the win and so get our season up and running. There again, we’d want to win regardless of who the opposition might have been. I’m careful about labelling Sunday as a must-win game because people will take it out of context, but a derby is always a must-win match.”
Vine conceded Hibs had been both naive and inexperienced against Malmo, particularly in the second leg of the tie when, already two down from the first match in Sweden, they were hammered 7-0, completing a record aggregate loss for a Scottish side in Europe.
A stunning win by Vine’s former club St Johnstone against Norwegian side Rosenburg coupled with an equally impressive victory away to FC Minsk in the first leg of the McDiarmid Park outfit’s third qualifying round tie in the same competition only served to highlight Hibs’ shortcomings and so plant the idea that the Edinburgh club was already in some sort of crisis.
Vine, though, was adamant that as disappointing as Hibs’ short Euro adventure had been, there were, to a degree, mitigating circumstances, such as Malmo being halfway through their season as, of course, were Rosenborg. However, he said: “I don’t think you can start trying to compare two different games. I don’t know how much chance we were given in the first place.
“Malmo were always favourites and had we lost 1-0 or maybe 2-0 at home I’m sure it would have been all forgotten about. But the fact we were beaten so heavily on the night will stay in the memory. We were a bit naive and inexperienced but we understand it was not good enough and the fans not being happy and disgruntled. But the only way we can change that is by winning games, starting on Sunday.”
Vine will return for the clash with the Jambos having, like teenage defender Jordon Forster, been hit by a one-match suspension held over from last season after the pair incurred six bookings. Today the 28-year-old revealed he’d totally forgotten about the ban and, having spent his entire career prior to his season with St Johnstone in England, admitted being somewhat bemused by the system here.
His undoing was a yellow card earned in the penultimate game of the season against Celtic, with Forster picking up five bookings while on loan with East Fife and only one in a green-and-white shirt, the penalties not kicking in until a fortnight after the disciplinary threshold was crossed meaning they were held over to the opening game of this season.
Vine said: “I remember towards the end of last season something being said that as I was on five bookings another one would knock me out of the last game.
“I was booked again in the second last one at Celtic Park but I didn’t miss the final game, then my contract with St Johnstone was up. It went totally out of my head as I was used to the system in England when, at the start of March, if you have not hit ten bookings then they are wiped for the rest of the season and you start afresh. But those are the rules up here and I’m not going to complain although it did leave me very frustrated because you want to make an immediate impact when you arrive at a new club. What made it even more frustrating was suffering a defeat in the game I had to sit out.
“We wanted to make an impact after Malmo and to start off on the right footing in the league but I felt we were unlucky. We looked solid, didn’t look like conceding, didn’t allow them many chances only to be hit by that sucker punch near the end.”
A derby victory would, however, offer some immediate redemption, particularly in the eyes of the supporters, and although he’s tasted the atmosphere at Tynecastle in the past, Vine knows Sunday will be an entirely different experience, even for someone like himself who can count Hibs as the 12th club of his career.
He said: “Tynecastle is a great place to play, I went there with St Johnstone towards the end of last season when it was near enough full and they won 2-0. The atmosphere was good but I am sure it will be something else for a derby.
“I’ve seen a couple on TV but never been to one so it’s something to look forward to as, to be honest, I’ve never really played in a big derby wherever I have been.”
Vine will face virtually an entirely new Hearts side since that night in March, the Jambos’ financial meltdown having led to stars such as Darren Barr, Andy Webster, Mehdi Taouil, Marius Zaliukas and John Sutton leaving – as well as Fraser Mullen, now a team-mate at Easter Road – while Hearts have also been hit with a deduction of 15 points and a signing ban which means no new players.
But while he can have some sympathy with their plight – recalling how his first club Portsmouth who remain “quite close to my heart” – suffered similar woes, Vine insisted: “They’ll be looking to stick together, players and fans, but they need to get results if they are to overcome that points deficit which, I’d imagine, will bring some sort of pressure on them. However, that’s no concern of ours.”