Comment: Prospect of third season above Hearts can help ensure harmony at Hibs
The current Edinburgh landscape should do wonders for the vibe at Easter Road in months ahead
In a city where a team’s performance in relation to its city rivals traditionally plays a big part in dictating the vibe among the respective fanbases, Hibs supporters are entitled to be feeling pretty good about themselves at present.
The two main Edinburgh clubs are so similar in stature that - whether they care to admit it or not - being the top dog in the Capital is usually enough to ensure a notable level of satisfaction at any point, regardless of how limited either or both of the teams may be in a wider Scottish football context.
At the start of any season, the three primary goals - in the eyes of supporters at least - will generally be to qualify for Europe, contend for the cups and finish ahead of the other lot across the city.
Hibs, having just recorded their second win at Tynecastle in a calendar year for the first time in almost half a century, are now 13 points ahead of Hearts and well on course to finish above them for the third consecutive season.
Ever since the Easter Road side returned to the Premiership in summer 2017, Hearts supporters have routinely had to contend with being told to “mind the gap” by their bitter rivals. Hearts finished sixth in each of the previous two seasons, with Hibs fourth and then fifth. As things stand, Hibs are fifth and Hearts are 12th, rock-bottom of the Premiership. The city landscape currently looks pretty alluring for anyone wearing green-tinted glasses.
While finishing ahead of this bereft Hearts team clearly can’t be considered any great feat in itself, Hibs fans are entitled to enjoy it nonetheless. After all, the fact Hibs were a meek team themselves under the likes of Colin Calderwood and Pat Fenlon didn’t stop Hearts supporters glorying in their most recent period of Edinburgh dominance in the early part of this decade.
Aside from the bragging rights it affords supporters for the weeks ahead, and the sense of harmony it helps create around the club, yesterday’s victory will do wonders for the stock level of Jack Ross and the morale of his players. Had Hibs lost to this relegation-haunted Hearts side or even thrown away a two-goal lead against them, which could easily have occurred as the hosts staged a much-improved second-half display, the knives would have been out for the recently-appointed manager in light of three defeats in the previous four matches.
Instead, Ross now goes into the winter break buoyed by the knowledge that he has a team which has the beating of most teams in the league outwith the Old Firm. Since he replaced Paul Heckingbottom just under two months ago, Ross has presided over impressive victories against Motherwell and Aberdeen, the two sides currently placed immediately above them in third and fourth.
His team should also have beaten sixth-place Kilmarnock, whom they led 2-0 going into the last half hour. And now he knows they have the fortitude to deal with a trip to Tynecastle, where Hibs have traditionally struggled in recent decades. It is worth recalling that prior to their 2-1 victory in April under Heckingbottom, Hibs hadn’t defeated Hearts away from home since 2013 and had won only four matches in Gorgie this century - all by a single-goal margin.
Even allowing for Hearts’ dire form, there were plenty Hibs supporters wary of a potential Boxing Day uprising from the hosts, who generally turn up in home derbies regardless of any shortcomings. Few will forget, of course, the occasion in March 2014 when Hibs fans rocked up at Tynecastle in party mood hoping to relegate Gary Lockie’s downtrodden, administration-ravaged Hearts side, but ended up losing and subsequently getting demoted themselves.
Hibs’ current league position, allied to the promise they are showing in the early matches of Ross’s tenure, suggests there is little chance of both Edinburgh sides suffering relegation this time round, even if that was starting to look like a genuine possibility as recently as two months ago. While Hearts are in deep trouble, Hibs are now well placed in the top six, looking at the possibilities ahead of them and relishing the prospect of finishing above their beleaguered Edinburgh rivals for the third year in succession. This state of affairs should ensure a period of relative harmony at Easter Road.