Hibs goalkeeper Mark Oxley has revealed he’s looking forward to getting up close and personal with Hearts fans again tomorrow, adamant he enjoys the close confines of Tynecastle.
And, having played in two Edinburgh derbies at the Gorgie ground, he insisted he’s well used to “getting pelters” from the home support, although happy to have some respite from such a reception last week when Hibs fans packed three sides of Tynecastle to watch Alan Stubbs’ side overcome St Johnstone and book their place in the League Cup final.
“It was great last week,” said the former Hull City player.
“The fans turned out in their numbers and were right behind us. It was like a home game.”
Roles will be reversed tomorrow with Tynecastle taking on a more familiar look with Hibs, having enjoyed the backing of 12,000 of their fans seven days ago, knowing they’ll be outnumbered by around four to one with their supporters confined to just the one stand, the Roseburn.
Having supporters so close to the pitch ensures a fantastic atmosphere, even more so on derby days, but Oxley, insisted, he relishes such surroundings.
He said: “I like the fans being so close, to be honest, it’s part and parcel of football. At some of the new grounds these days you are miles away from the fans and it’s not the same atmosphere. With this being a derby, there will be that extra spice.
“You hear everything, you get pelters every week, but it doesn’t bother me. You have to enjoy that and embrace it. You get the usual shouts every week – ‘ginger’ and all that. But you take it with a pinch of salt.”
And, despite being the one Hibs player who will spend more time in close proximity to the Hearts support than any other, Oxley was adamant he doesn’t feel in any way threatened. Revealing team-mate Liam Henderson had almost been hit by a cup of Bovril during the semi-final, he said: “You’re not going to get any trouble at a big game like this these days.”
Tomorrow’s match, of course, marks the end of a massive week in Hibs’ season, Stubbs’ players following up their 2-1 victory over St Johnstone by travelling to Greenock where an Anthony Stokes goal was enough to earn them three points against Morton and so keep their Championship title dream very much alive.
Although he and his team-mates have persisted with the mantra that it is one game at a time as they fight on three fronts, Oxley admitted tomorrow’s derby has been at the back of their minds ever since the draw for the fifth round was made.
He said: “Games like this are what you want at this stage of the season. You want to be looking forward to big games and luckily we have put ourselves in the position where every match is a big one, not only the cup games but in the league. We need to thrive on that.
“I think we’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. A few of the lads have been trying to get extra tickets and can’t get them. As soon as the draw was made the lads were buzzing. This is something we have probably missed with Hearts going up last year. We want to take the opportunity with both hands.”
Arriving on loan from Hull on a season-long loan deal after having enjoyed a similar spell with Oldham Athletic – where he admits there were no comparable fixtures – Oxley quickly realised just what an Edinburgh derby means to the city, his first visit to Tynecastle coming in only his third match for Hibs.
And, although he ended up on the losing side that day, Hibs remained unbeaten in the following three derbies, the next two drawn before goals from Jason Cummings and Farid El Alagui finally gave them the victory they believed had by then become overdue.
The 25-year-old, whose parents will be making the journey north just as they did last weekend, said: “Last year, I realised what it meant to people. Obviously, I was aware it is a derby, but you see what a massive thing it is for the city – Edinburgh lives and breathes football.
“When I played in the games last year you could see what it means to the fans. In town you get the heckles from the Hearts fans while the Hibs supporters want to come up and have a chat. But that’s why I signed for a club in Scotland. The fans love it, it’s a massive club and a massive city.”
Oxley was adamant little has changed from last season even if Hearts are now flying high in the Premiership while Stubbs’ players are again locked in a battle for promotion.
Pointing out that he and his team-mates have already taken care of three Premiership sides – Aberdeen, Dundee United and now St Johnstone – in booking their place at Hampden on Sunday, March 13, Sheffield-born Oxley said: “As a group, confidence is sky high and we are playing well.
“We fancy our chances against anyone. It’s all right saying that, but we need to perform like we did last week. You don’t get chances like this often.
“I think this derby is as big as any across the country, maybe even England. It’s a capital city and a massive fixture.
“Hearts will be a match for anybody but, at the same time, they will know how well we are doing and we can’t have any fear. We want to keep our record against Premiership teams going, especially in a derby.”