BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Robbie Neilson has urged his Hearts side to keep their cool in the white-hot atmosphere of tonight’s Scottish Cup Edinburgh derby – or risk future heartache at Hampden.
Winger Sam Nicholson was singled out by the Hibernian fans in the 2-2 draw at Tynecastle 10 days ago and fell foul of referee Craig Thomson after reacting in the wake of netting Hearts’ second goal.
The 21-year-old was cautioned for grabbing his crotch as he wheeled away in front of the visiting support and was joined in the book by team-mates Juwon Oshaniwa, Blazej Augustyn and Jordan McGhee, whilst Alim Ozturk’s yellow card rules him out of tonight’s replay through suspension.
Neilson accepts that the frenetic pace of derby encounters will result in players making genuine on-field mistakes.
However, the Gorgie head coach has warned his players there could be disappointing consequences if they lose their heads in the heat of battle.
With Easter Road declared a 20,000 sell-out, Neilson said: “The crowd can work both ways. It depends how the game goes.
“It could make it more difficult or a lot easier. It will depend on the flow of the game. We hope to go there and stamp our authoritiy on it.
“We want to silence the crowd and if we do that it can become a good place to go and play.”
Asked about Nicholson’s booking, Neilson went on: “Players score goals in football and do silly things. It’s part of football but we want them to keep their discipline and try not to get booked because Sam got booked in the Cup game.
“If you pick up two bookings then you miss the next round. If we get to the semi-final and Sam gets booked then it would come back to haunt him and he would miss the final if we got there.
“You hope they don’t do silly things. I get things chanted at me – it’s part and parcel of football. If you’re at a big club people shout at you. You have to accept it and silence them by scoring goals.
“I say that to all my players, they all know that. The players need to go out there and try and concentrate on the football match, especially in big games like an Edinburgh derby, where there is a lot of noise in the background and build-up.”
Neilson took in Hibs’ goalless draw against Livingston at the weekend after his own side’s encounter with Partick Thistle was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch.
He accepts that the difference in preparations could give Hearts an edge in what could turn out to be two hours of energy-sapping football tonight.
However, he is less willing to agree with the bookmakers who have made Hibs favourites for the replay.
He added: “The bookies can say what they want. We’re quite comfortable and confident of going there and getting a result.
“It’s a derby match so it’s always going to be difficult but, with the squad and players we’ve got, we’ve got more than enough to go and win down there.
“There’s pressure no matter what side you are in a derby. They’re always difficult games. We played well in the first game, got 2-0 up and then the players took the foot off the gas a bit and they’ve realised they can’t do that.
“I do think that if we play how we did in the first-half in the last game for 90 minutes we will win the game.”
Hearts had six players – Juwon Oshaniwa, Blazej Augustyn, Gavin Reilly, Don Cowie, Arnaud Djoum and Abiola Dauda – making their Edinburgh derby debuts at Tynecastle and could have even more this time round if the likes of John Souttar, Igor Rossi and Juanma make an appearance.
However, Neilson has no worries they will be unable to cope with the expected ferocity of this evening’s eagerly-awaited rematch.
“They will handle it,” he said. “These guys have played in massive games before. Dauda has played at Red Star Belgrade, Rossi has played at Sporting Lisbon and Benfica and all these places. Augustyn has played in Serie A.
“So, playing at Easter Road isn’t going to hold any issue for them at all. You can’t be nervous stepping out there when you have played at the San Siro.”