Hibs boss Neil Lennon has warned his players that they will have to be prepared to go toe-to-toe with Craig Levein’s “rugged” Hearts in tonight’s first Edinburgh derby of the season.
The Easter Road side go into the game having not lost against their Capital rivals in their last seven clashes, knocking the Jambos out of the Scottish Cup in each of the past two seasons.
But with Levein now in charge at Tynecastle, Lennon admits Hearts are a totally different proposition to when the sides met earlier in the year with the Gorgie outfit then under Ian Cathro.
Lennon has also revealed that he is sweating over the fitness of Anthony Stokes and Danny Swanson, the striker’s ankle “still a bit puffy” after he picked up a knock in the Betfred Cup defeat by Celtic, while the playmaker limped off with a knee injury in training on Sunday and is a major doubt. Moreover, the Hibs boss has still to decide whether Ross Laidlaw or Ofir Marciano will be in goal.
Adamant he and his players couldn’t ask for a better game following their weekend disappointment at Hampden, Lennon said: “I expect Hearts to be mentally and physically stronger. Craig knows these derbies far better than I do and he knows what it takes to win them.
“I expect the game to be physical and to have a good tempo. Under the lights there is always a bit more added to the atmosphere. It is a game that when you are at Hibs you want to make your name in.
“These are the games the fans remember and that’s a real motivation for the players as well, We will be emphasising that a lot to the players between now and kick-off. I want my players to earn the right to play.
“If the game is going to be feisty and gets turned into a physical battle I want them to be ready to stand up to that. They can do that and we have proved that already this season against really strong opposition.
“Hearts are rugged and grinding out results, that’s what Craig brings. He gets results and we will have to force the issue if we must and put them under pressure when we can. If that means mixing it up physically as well as playing football, then we can do that.”
Should Stokes fail to make it, then Simon Murray would appear the obvious replacement, although 19-year-old Oli Shaw was given the nod ahead of Hibs’ top-scorer at the weekend, vindicating his manager’s faith by netting with only his second touch after replacing Vykintas Slivka.
Lennon questioned whether or not Shaw would start in such a match, but insisted he has no doubts he has a highly talented striker on his hands, saying: “He’s a bit like Harry Kane, he starts the season and you think he is a big, lanky so-and-so.
“Then, all of a sudden, he starts playing well, banging the goals in and leading the line. I was thinking ‘we need a goal’ and thought the kid had waited long enough to get an opportunity. You just get a feeling sometimes and sometimes you’ve just got to trust your feeling. Thankfully it paid off.
“I don’t want to make him out to be the next such-and-such because he needs to add bits and pieces to his game, especially in a big physical game like this is going to be. Whether he starts or not is another thing, but we know we’ve got a good, young talented player on our hands which is great for the club.”