Hibs’ Darren McGregor lifts lid on derby battle with Hearts’ Uche Ikpeazu

Hibs defender Darren McGregor is braced for another gruelling physical challenge as he bids to shackle Hearts centre-forward Uche Ikpeazu for the second time in a month.

Friday, 26th April 2019, 7:30 am
Darren McGregor grapples with Hearts star Uche Ikpeazu
Darren McGregor grapples with Hearts star Uche Ikpeazu

The veteran centre-back admitted to being slightly “apprehensive” as he prepared to go head-to-head with the imposing Englishman at Tynecastle three weeks ago. Ikpeazu, renowned for his power and pace, is viewed as the focal point of Hearts’ attack, but McGregor, ably assisted by central defensive sidekick Paul Hanlon, found a way of keeping the former Cambridge United striker quiet as Hibs earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory – their first in Gorgie for almost six years.

As the two sides prepare to meet again at Easter Road this Sunday, McGregor is buoyed by the knowledge that he was able to stand up to the much-hyped Hearts striker. “When you are 6ft three and, whatever he is, 16-and-a-half stone, you are going to be strong straight off the bat. But added to that it’s obviously all muscle as well,” said McGregor as he gave an insight into how he nullified Ikpeazu. “He is a handful and he has proved that but I thought we dealt with it in the last game. Going into the game there was some apprehension. You could argue, when he is planted and he is applying pressure, he is probably the strongest guy in the league, so you need to be a bit coy and sensible in these situations. There was a couple of times when I tried to wrestle him and 99 times out of a hundred I’d normally win, but with the big guy, maybe not. He is very effective at what he does. I thought it was a good battle.”

Much was made of Ikpeazu’s potential threat to Hibs in the days leading up to the last derby, but McGregor insists he knew simply from watching his opponent in previous matches that he would have to be at his most focused in order to keep him in check.

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“Hand on heart, I didn’t pay much attention to the build-up – at the end of the day, it is just words,” he said. “I am more about action. I can sit here and say I am doing this, I am doing that to the big man and go out there and potentially get embarrassed. I just keep myself to myself. I was made aware through just watching him how strong, physical and fast he was. That’s something I consciously took on board and I thought ‘how am I going to play against him?’ But it is not just me, it is a defensive unit. There were a couple of times when he did get away from me and Paul made a couple of great tackles and vice versa when he won a couple of headers and I covered Paul. But we work on that every day and not just solely against Hearts. It is the first thing you do as a defender, if you can’t win the ball you cover and you make an angle and try and help out your colleague. That was key to how well we did. That is a what a good defensive pairing does, you cover each other in strong and weak positions. That’s something I thought we did well.”

Hearts’ goal in the last derby came from a corner, and McGregor expects their main threat to come from set-pieces again on Sunday.

“They have a lot of physical boys from back to front - they have Berra, Souttar, Haring and Djoum is a big lad was well. They play for set pieces, and so they should with their physical dominance. I would be doing the same. Throw-ins go in the box, corners go in, set-pieces go in and you need to deal with that. But bar their goal, most of the time we were there and got a head on it to clear it in the last game.”