Hearts manager Craig Levein has said his players have to put Wednesday’s Rangers clash out of their heads as they prepare for a crucial Edinburgh derby on Saturday.
The Jambos haven’t lost to Hibs this season and will be keen to keep that stat after the lunchtime kick-off at Tynecastle. To do that, they will have to drastically improve on their Ibrox performance, where they sunk to a 3-0 defeat. Levein was disappointed by another poor Glasgow showing.
Levein told NTOF: “The difference between our performance on Saturday and Wednesday was stark. We were too passive in the match. I know we won’t be passive in the game tomorrow. It is a little bit irritating though.
“We need to try a different approach.”
The Ikpeazu factor
Levein confirmed that influential striker Uche Ikpeazu will return for the clash against the Hibees. The striker was key in their 2-1 victory over Aberdeen last Saturday. The Hearts manager has also said right-back Michael Smith may return for the Tynecastle battle.
“Ikpeazu brings a hunger to our frontline that we don’t have if he isn’t it in the team. I think having scored against Aberdeen he’s in a good place and he’ll want to get on the scoresheet again.
“Michael Smith has a chance providing he get’s through training today. He’s one of our most important players. If they are both ready and available then that makes me feel good.”
The Hearts manager made a defensive change against Rangers, bringing in midfielder Oliver Bozanic for the injured Ikpeazu.
With the striker set to return to the starting XI, Levein commented on what he brings to the team: “I think the fact Uche is not in the team we are less attacking. The fact he is in the team means we will be more attacking.
“Our intent wasn’t to sit in and defend at Ibrox, it was to have a go. We just didn’t do very well.”
When asked about a potential partnership between youngster Aidan Keena and Ikpeazu, Levein said; “Possibly. Keena was on the bench on Wednesday and did well when he came on. He’s in my thoughts. I like him, I think he’s different to some of the other strikers we’ve got.
“Uche at times is unpredictable for the opposition and some times for us as well. To get a good partnership it requires a lot of work. At this time of the season it isn’t as easy to do that work. We might play with two at times. Most of the time we have played with Ikpeazu as a lone striker, but I’m not saying that won’t change.”
The compliance officer and fan trouble
During the week Hearts and Aberdeen got charges from the SFA after altercations at Tynecastle last weekend. Levein gave his take on how these things are dealt with by the compliance officer.
He said: “My view on these things that are viewed by the compliance officer is people in Scotland like to see competitive football. This derby match will be competitive and god forbid that there is ever a day we take that out of this fixture.
“We need to be careful we don’t sanitise the football so much in Scotland and it becomes what the supporters don’t want to see. Supporters like to see a competitive edge. Sometimes I feel the compliance officer is in a hurry to dilute that. I don’t think it’s necessary.”
In derbies this season, there has been a few incidents of fan trouble. Then Hibs boss Neil Lennon was hit by a coin at Tynecastle earlier this campaign. Hearts keeper Zdenek Zlamal was also subject to abuse by Hibees supporters.
Levein hopes it’s something he doesn’t have to deal with.
“I’ve got enough things to worry about without really trying to take that on. I just hope the game isn’t marred by any nonsense from the stands or on the field. I don’t want to assume responsibility for that.”
Hearts face a tough test again their Leith rivals. They haven’t lost under new manager Paul Heckingbottom in the league and have only conceded twice from open play in their past five games.
Levein remains adamant though that things won’t change much against this new look Hibs side.
“Obviously you’ve got to take into account how the opposition play. We’re not going to change an awful lot about we do. It’ll become important who’s best players play better on the day.
“There’s only so many things you can heap on the players. You can only try your hardest and I expect to get every ounce of energy they’ve got. I’m sure Heckingbottom will expect the same of his.
“These games are very tight. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of chances in the match. It becomes about who takes their chances when they come along and that’s what happened at Easter Road. Olly Lee scored but there wasn’t an awful lot in it. I don’t think they’ll be much in it at all again tomorrow.”