BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Former Hibernian favourite Ben Williams is acutely aware that there is no such thing as a placid Edinburgh derby.
However, he reckons Alan Stubbs’ men can afford to approach Sunday’s clash at Tynecastle in relaxed fashion when compared to the suffocating pressure on the Hibees when the sides last crossed swords in the Scottish Cup.
The eagerly-anticipated last-16 encounter is the first time the capital clubs have met in this competition since December 2, 2012, when Hearts arrived at Easter Road on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run in derby matches.
Hibs’ 5-1 Scottish Cup final mauling at the hands of the Jambos seven months earlier was also still fresh in the mind, and Williams – who arrived at the club two months after that “humiliation” – acknowledges that the build-up was overwhelming.
With Hearts still crowing – skipper Marius Zaliukas did a ‘5-1’ gesture during the game – and Hibees baying for some sort of vengeance, Williams kept a clean sheet in a fraught 1-0 win for Pat Fenlon’s side.
A David Wotherspoon goal, via a wicked deflection off Zaliukas, sealed the triumph and Williams recalls the relief after finally affording the home fans some respite.
The 33-year-old told Capital City Press: “The main thing I remember is the pressure that surrounded that game – really intense pressure. The [5-1] final was humiliating for everyone involved and horrible for the Hibs fans, we knew that.
“There was a real desire to rectify that. And we did. There were players still at the club who went through it, the manager [Fenlon] was still there, and we wanted to regain pride for the club and right some wrongs.
“Some of the hype and pressure came from the media and papers, but it was more important for us to get a result for the fans. They are the ones who pay your wages, they gave us brilliant support, and we felt that onus to give them something back.
“No-one can take away the fact Hearts won that final the way the did, but it went some way to settling a score.”
Williams, taking a keen interest from south of the border where he is enjoying a fine season with Bradford City, believes it is a wholly different landscape in Edinburgh now.
Albeit in the division below Hearts, there is an air of positivity surrounding Stubbs’ side as they prepare for a League Cup final – having eliminated three top-flight sides on the way – and remain on Rangers’ coat-tails in the Championship.
Williams continued: “The current squad will probably be able to look forward to the game with excitement, rather than the pressure we had.
“Alan Stubbs seems to be doing a great job there. They are playing with confidence, scoring goals and progressing really well. I know Hearts are doing well in the Premiership, but I don’t think there is a huge gulf between the sides.
“I think it will be a really tight game and it is up to Hibs to play like they have been doing lately and prove that they can match Hearts.”
Williams cites that win over Hearts in the fourth round in 2012 as the moment Fenlon’s side truly believed they could reach a second consecutive Scottish Cup final.
That is exactly what they did, ultimately ending the season with another dose of Hampden heartbreak as they succumbed to a 3-0 defeat against Celtic. And the big stopper hopes the Hibees can go one better this season as they chase a remarkable treble.
He added: “When you get through a derby it gives you all the confidence in the world. After beating Hearts, we certainly started to believe we could get to Hampden again.
“When you get through a match like that it stands you in good stead. You start to think ‘if we can handle that, then there’s not much to fear’. You believe you can handle anything the competition can throw at you.
“Unfortunately, we came up against a good Celtic side in the final that year. I believe – and I think a lot of the boys will agree – that if we had got anyone else in that final, we could have come home with the trophy.
“It would be brilliant for the fans if they could go all the way again and, after experiencing a couple of finals in recent years, hopefully get that elusive cup.”