BY ALAN TEMPLE – CCP_Sport
EASTER ROAD is on course to register its biggest crowd since the iconic “Wayne Foster derby” when Hibs host Hearts – and Jambos legend Henry Smith is praying for a similar outcome.
Monday marked exactly 23 years to the day since “Fozzy” wrote his name in Hearts folklore with his last-gasp strike in Leith, securing a 2-1 Scottish Cup win for the men in maroon.
That timeless triumph, which extended their unbeaten run over their city rivals to 21 matches, was watched by 20,953 fans, including a packed away enclosure that erupted when Foster jumped on to the fence to salute them.
While recent derbies have seen 20,106 (January 2014) and 19,433 (February 2016) supporters attend, Hibs officials expect the encounter this evening – which is not televised – to top those numbers and be close to a 20,421 sell-out.
And Smith, who was between the sticks for the Jambos when Foster became a cult hero in February 1994, hopes Hearts are on the right side of another unforgettable result at a packed Easter Road.
He will be in attendance tonight with his daughter, Hannah, and said: “That was some day and I’ll never forget the way it ended, with Fozzy’s goal and the celebrations that followed.
“When he stuck the ball through big Jim’s [Leighton] legs, that was some moment and an incredible way to end a derby.
“It would be great to see one of the Hearts lads pop up with a moment like that again.
“It was one of those nights you want to play in – a packed crowd, brilliant atmosphere and plenty of drama. I’m sure it will be more of the same at Easter Road, under the lights and heading for a sell out.
“It is going to be huge, the place will be jumping and, frankly, if it isn’t the type of game you raise yourself for, then you shouldn’t be a footballer!”
The Jambos are seeking to halt a six-game winless run against the Hibees, which included last season’s Scottish Cup fifth round defeat – but Smith has dismissed the idea that Neil Lennon’s side have the psychological advantage.
And should Hearts progress, Smith reckons there is no reason why Ian Cathro cannot lead them to a memorable run to Hampden, with a home tie against Championship strugglers Ayr United the only thing that would be standing between them and a place in the last four.
Smith, who made 645 appearances for Hearts, said: “All the Hearts players will be thinking about is a wonderful opportunity in the cup. No disrespect to Ayr, but what a chance the two teams have got to reach a major semi-final at Hampden Park. That is what you need to be thinking about – not winless runs or what happened last season.
“I played for Ayr and I know their fans are a noisy bunch who will expect their side to make it difficult. But they are a part-time Championship team. The Hearts or Hibs should be expected to progress.
“It is a huge incentive for the teams and would be massive for Ian Cathro. He has had a sticky start, although I think there have been moments when we have seen how he wants us to play like Motherwell and Rangers.
“If Ian can get the team through Wednesday night and then Ayr United, then it could be a real springboard – and no-one will be talking about the tough results at the start.”