More than just three points, more than the bragging rights, the match and the one that follows next weekend will define Hearts and Hibs’ season, as well as having a major say in how next term rolls out in terms of European football and access to the group stages.
Against that backdrop, there is a greater sheen to next week’s Scottish Cup semi-final. A win at Hampden would guarantee Hearts a place in the Conference League groups at the very least, whilst a victory for the Leithers would keep that particular dream alive for them, too, and that is not forgetting the little matter of a cup final spot for the team that triumphs.
But, it is no surprise that both are sticking with the one-game-at-a-time mantra. And what a game.
So far the Edinburgh foes have battled hard but have just two 0-0 draws to show for those endeavors and with the possibility that this could be the last Premiership meeting between the sides this season, neither wants to pass up the opportunity to tip the balance in their favour.
But that one upmanship could stretch beyond the final scoreline.
While various permutations could see Hearts wrap up third place, which has seemed their fate for so long now, the truth is this is a match where Hibs’ need for a win outstrips Hearts’, with that outcome the only one that leaves their top- six fate in their own hands.
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Squished up in a traffic jam of seven clubs all seeking a place in the top half of the table when the league splits this weekend, it would be a disaster. Survive among the elite and although the gulf would still be sizeable, they would justifiable harbor hopes of a fourth-place finish, one spot behind Robbie Neilson’s men.
But lose and the weight of the world will come down on their shoulders ahead of what would become a salvage act at Hampden next weekend.
This was, after all, a club that finished third last season, and made it to a final. To be pipped to both by rivals, newly returned to the top flight, would be a sore one to take, especially after the sacking of Jack Ross and the arrival of Shaun Maloney, who was brought in to deliver more, not less.
As they occupied fourth spot the Hibs boss reminded everyone that he had been brought in while the team were languishing in seventh place and their move up the rankings was used to exhibit improvement. If they lose at Tynecastle today, or come up short in the quest for goals and have to settle for a draw once more, the football gods will be left to decide whether they are cut off from the top half of the table leaving seventh place the best they can hope to come the conclusion of the campaign.
Neither manager chose to try to downplay the magnitude of the meeting. They couldn’t. And, it is now how the players handle the pressure. And how the performance and result set the scene for next week’s second act.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.