Friday, August 10, 2012

SPL: Hibs v Hearts

Bliss it was that dawn to be alive.

19th May 2012.

They were happy coaches that travelled from Leith to the Scottish Cup final that day in May, fuelled by hope and expectation. Songs filled the air. This was Hibs' time.

They delivered fans not to a green and pleasant land but a dystopian nightmare.

From Wordsworth to Orwell, the Scottish Cup final as imagined by a hungover Danny Boyle with Pa Kujabi and Pat Fenlon auditioning to play Mr Bean.

That was then. This is now.

Even a club as unresponsive as Hibs realised something had to change.

A number of players who trudged off the pitch at Hampden were quickly shipped out.

A new team would be built, a team with "bottle," ready to make a fresh start. Ready to restore the reputation of a club that had invented new ways to fail in the past couple of season.

Fast forward to the competitive debut of this "new" Hibs.

A 3-0 defeat to Dundee United in which Hibs were variously clueless in defence, weak in midfield and toothless in attack.

You'll have had your summer of change.

And now another test.

Hearts at Easter Road. Just the second game of the season. Hearts fresh from a comfortable 2-0 win over St Johnstone, Hearts fans set on another party to mark that Scottish Cup win, this one in their neighbour's backyard.

Things don't get much easier for Hibs. But that's what happens when a club gets so much wrong.

There are those on the board at Easter Road who like to extol the virtues of their budget driven management of the club while looking haughtily across the city.

It's not that simple.

Hibs youth policy has been stuttery since the last of the impressive - and profitable - "golden generation" left.

Last weekend Hearts trumped them for the number of youth graduates in the squad and in the starting line up.

And Hibs, whose miserliness some like to present as a masterful, are brassic.

Maybe not as skint as some clubs but too many seasons of paying off managers, making bad signings whose contracts need to be bought out and not producing any saleable assets has taken its toll.

They have a fine stadium. But no money. Some clubs buy success, Hibs wouldn't do that so ended up spending a fortune on failure. That makes rebuilding a team very hard.

It's a rum do indeed in Leith.

All of which is ground I've covered before and will again. But it's important to give Sunday's game context.

The first derby of the season - and it's an early season clash - always had to be targetted as a big step on the road to recovery.

The cup final is gone, history can't be changed, the jokes and jubiliation in Gorgie will never end.

But a sound performance against Hearts - a much, much overdue win in this fixture - would be evidence of progress, a measure of the rebuilding job.

Yet Hibs appear to be entering the game as the SPL's Benidorm hotel.

They might one day be fine. But right now the work has stalled, the owner has stopped paying the builder, the windows haven't been fitted and the swimming pool isn't tiled.

Hearts have had changes themselves. John McGlynn has been given the tricky job of taking over from the cup winning Paulo Sergio and remoulding the team with a focus on youth.

But the players were already at the club, ready to take the step up, immersed in the ethos of the club. An ethos that very much includes winning derby games.

What hope for Hibs?

Last week's showing could have been a bad day at the office, United had already played a European tie and their early goal might just have caught Hibs off guard.

The arrival of Gary Deegan might bolster that powder puff midfield.

Fenlon's promise of a new look and a new attitude might have blossomed on the lush green grass of that expensive training centre this week.

A young Hearts side might fall victim to inconsistency, their lack of striking options might become a problem.

But you'd struggle to find a Hibs fan to bet on any of that.

Losing the first two games of the season needn't be disastrous but losing this game would be a problem for Hibs.

In the battle for hearts and minds losing another battle to Hearts will make up more minds about the direction the club is taking.

Hibs v Hearts: the odds

Ladbrokes Game On!

Ladbrokes offer 11/5 for a Hibs win, 5/4 for a Hearts win and 9/4 for the draw.

The optimistic Hibs fan might be interested to see that 2-1 win with Leigh Griffiths as first scorer comes in at 40/1.

James McPake - scorer of the cup final consolation goal - is a 12/1 anytime scorer.

And perhaps some of those Hearts fans for whom confidence is not a problem will fancy a John Sutton hat trick at 33/1.

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