Shaun Maloney insists Hibs are up for Hearts battle as Easter Road boss warns his team are no pushovers

Shaun Maloney watched his Hibs players confound the expectations of their own fearful fans by battling Hearts to a standstill in his first experience of the Edinburgh derby.

And he’s warned the Jambos that their city rivals – so often referred to as “soft” by fans – will be an even more physically ferocious in this afternoon’s battle royale at Tynecastle.

Maloney, who has settled in central Edinburgh and enjoys regular chats with supporters, revealed that many punters had raised the same concern ahead of February’s 0-0 draw at Easter Road.

“Speaking to supporters before the game, they had a real concern about Hearts being physically dominant against us,’ said the former Celtic and Scotland star.

“And I actually felt the opposite was true. We matched them physically – and that was a big thing for our fans.

“And I actually feel we’re physically in a better place than we were then.

“So that was a really big worry for our support going into that match – and it was one of the really big positives to come out of it.

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“The fans did (worry about that). I don’t think they do now.”

Renowned for his technical ability as a player and with a coaching CV that includes being part of the backroom staff with Belgium’s spectacularly gifted national team, Maloney stressed the need to combine strength with skill.

“Competing is one of the aspects of the game I love. I just love the competitive side of it.” he said.

“Players can make mistakes in games but the bare minimum they have to do is compete.

“And that’s what I loved in the last derby performance, even from some of our most technical players.

“Joe Newell was just a monster, physically, in that game. And how we tried to press Hearts out of possession. They did the same.

“But that was a really big thing for us in the last game, we felt that physically we matched them.

“And that was a big worry for the club – externally, really.

“So you’re asking if I learn things from my players.

“In that last derby, I learned a lot about my squad in terms of that competitiveness and desire not to lose. If we show what we did in the last derby, and physically we are even better, I know the performance is going to be good.”

Hibs might need a win to secure a top-six spot today and, with Hearts at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final to come next weekend, Maloney isn’t shying away from the pressure.

Urging his players to show courage, he said: “It’s all about bravery but there are different kinds. There is the bravery that we showed to match the physicality. And then there is the bravery we showed against Dundee United last week – when we were under pressure, we had to play.

“Those two things will be absolutely vital to the game.

“And something we have spoken about for a lot of weeks is how clinical we are in the final third.

“If we can find that, it will be a big factor in the game.

“I think only Celtic have a better defensive record than us since I came in.

“But where the balance is not quite right, we are very good defensively but attacking wise we still have a lot to do.

“We have young players who I feel have special moments in them, and who I feel will be even better for the experience, whether positive or less positive from now to the end of the season.

“But that is a balance that I have to work on. What we have done defensively is to give ourselves a platform to get in the top six and fight for a place in the top four and a semi final.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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