McPake: Griffiths can handle the heat in Hearts’ cauldron
Leigh GRIFFITHS will have the devil urging him to live up to his “bad boy” reputation sitting on one shoulder at Tynecastle tomorrow and on the other a guardian angel in the shape of Hibs skipper James McPake.
The Easter Road striker has rapidly become the target for opposition fans following a string of highly-publicised indiscretions which have brought a series of bans.
Hearts supporters are unlikely to miss the chance to goad him into another, recalling how he picked up a booking within seconds of making his debut in the first Edinburgh derby of the season and, in the eyes of many, was lucky to escape a second.
But while admitting “Sparky” is exactly the same character he came across as a 15-year-old at Livingston, McPake, pictured below, believes the Scotland Under-21 star will cope with all that’s thrown at him.
He said: “That derby was Leigh’s first game for Hibs and he would have been excited about it. he has settled down a bit – but I don’t know if that’s anything to do with me coming in and pestering him all the time as I did at Livingston.
“I’ll bend his ear before the game and keep him right. I am sure he will be fine. He’s exactly the same as he was when he was 15 or 16, I don’t think you can change him, you just need to manage him. To be honest, I don’t think you want to change him, he’s a good player and passionate especially about this club, he loves it.”
Griffiths found himself singled out by Ayr United fans at Somerset Park as his penalty helped ease Hibs into the semi-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup but that as with the abuse fans from other clubs direct at him is, McPake insisted, because the know the threat he poses. He said: “I think his qualities worry other teams and their fans know it. I’m sure the Hearts fans will try to wind him up, they’ll be trying to wind all of us up but it’s a case of handling the game.
“We have to make sure we have Leigh in our team week in, week out, not missing through suspension or whatever. He would be the first to admit some of his stuff has been silly but if we can keep him playing he is a threat to any team.”
Although Griffiths’ volatility is known, McPake claimed any words of advice he offers the hitman will apply equally to the rest of his team-mates, adamant that if Pat Fenlon’s side are to break Hearts current stranglehold on the derby then they have to ensure they focus entirely on the match and no side issues.
As he looked forward to his first taste of a Capital derby, the on-loan Coventry City stopper said: “We need to keep 11 on the pitch. Obviously things happen, tackles, people getting caught up in the atmosphere and so on. But Tynecastle is a good place to play. I think we can enjoy it but we have to keep calm heads as well and not get caught up in any silliness.”
While Hibs would dearly love to end Hearts run of nine derbies without defeat, McPake believes the three points take on an added significance as victory would stretch the Easter Road outfit’s advantage over SPL basement outfit Dunfermline to seven points and go a long way to easing their own relegation worries.
He said: “The last few weeks have been good, we’ve reached the semi-final of the Cup and had the derby to look forward to but you can overplay it a little bit. At the end of the day it’s worth three points and that’s the important thing at this stage of the season, to be picking up points. It would open the gap between us and, depending on how other results go, hopefully help us catch up on the teams above us. The manager has been trying to keep it as normal a week as possible, again trying not to over-hype but everyone knows it is a big game.
“You notice the difference in the build-up, there’s more coverage in the newspapers with interviews and the like and there’s been a bit excitement about the place. We’ve a few Hibs boys in the dressing-room and it’s shown. When I first came in they were a bit down, gutted at the predicament the club was in but while everyone is delighted to win you can seen then they are big fans. They know how much it means to the fans but come the day each and every one of us is desperate to win.”