Hibernian seem to have a thing for bad boys or, more specifically, strikers with reputations for sniffing out goals and trouble in equal measure. Leigh Griffiths is the one who has all of Easter Road hanging on his every growl at the moment, with Hibs fans ready to swoon should he help propel the club beyond Hearts in a William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round derby tomorrow and offer a reprieve from any mention of the five goals they conceded in last year's final. Yet if the on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers forward does pop up with a goal, it will also succeed in reminding everyone of another figure from the club's past.
Derek Riordan used to be the object of Hibs fans' affections: blond, brooding and a local boy who carried a chip on his shoulder with a generous helping of salt 'n' sauce, the forward came through the ranks to become an integral part of the team he supported while growing up. His time in Edinburgh can be measured in black and white given the surfeit of goals he scored – Riordan is the third all-time top scorer in the Scottish Premier League with 95 – but his career has often been far more colourful. He seemed to have a knack of making those in maroon see red, in particular, one late penalty at Tynecastle taken as an invitation of a square go by one Hearts supporter.
Now at Bristol Rovers, the 29-year-old is far enough away from the latest episode of the Edinburgh derby that he is unlikely to cause much fuss, while his immediate concerns lie with trying to help his own side pull away from the bottom end of npower League Two. It is a modest environment for a player of his prowess, although Riordan has yet to recover his scoring touch since agreeing a short-term deal in September.
If it is taking time to find his feet then at least it has brought a halt to what had become a somewhat nomadic presence; a short spell at St Johnstone and a few weeks of training with Kilmarnock and Ross County coming after a two-year contract at Chinese side Shaanxi Chan-Ba was terminated after just four months. That might have been enough to provoke the sort of petulance for which Riordan became infamous but there is something about Bristol which seems to agree with the 29-year-old. He has found support and patience in Mark McGhee, the Rovers manager, and a lack of goals is all that is disturbing his contentment.
"I think that's what happens for a striker, you go through a wee spell where the ball will not go in for you at all," said Riordan. "That was like the case for me last Saturday [a 3-3 draw with Bradford City]; everything I hit got blocked or went wide or something. I hit a free-kick in the last minute and it went about 90 miles over the bar. I think I need it to go in off my shin or my knee or something like that.
"I'm obviously not happy that I've not scored yet; this is probably one of the longest droughts I've had. But I'm enjoying it and it's been all right. The boys are all decent and [McGhee] has been brilliant; he has made me feel welcome and is a really nice man as well. It's just been a bit rubbish we've not got the results we've deserved, but that will come."
His comfort at the Memorial Stadium has perhaps been aided by the welter of Scots that have alighted there under McGhee, while former Celtic team-mates Stephen McManus, Stephen Pearson and Mark Wilson are all across town at rivals City. Each of them boast international honours but it is Riordan's humble haul of just three Scotland caps that draws the most attention. The forward has formed his own opinion as to why he was often overlooked despite his record at Hibs and the subject still provokes a moment of consternation.
"I've only three caps and that seems quite small for the amount of goals I've scored. There are players there that have a lot more caps than me and that have not even done half the stuff . . . but that's football and people have their favourites," he said archly. "People always said I was lazy but I don't know. I had that time at Hibs and I was flying, absolutely flying, and then I went to Celtic for two years and didn't play much. Hibs took me back and I finished top goalscorer with [Steven] Fletcher and I wasn't even that fit, to be fair. Then Stokesy [Anthony Stokes] came in and beat me for goals, but I was playing left midfield that season and I still scored 19. I don't know. It's strange."
Riordan has yet to broach the subject of extending his Rovers contract beyond Christmas but he does not seem too averse to sticking around, a feeling which felt foreign to him during his time in China. It proved a difficult four months at Shaanxi, with Riordan playing just nine games and scoring only once, and his appetite for the whole adventure was also affected by a difficulty in adapting to such an unfamiliar culture, and most pertinently the food.
His views are informed, in part, by the experiences of close friend and former Hibs strike partner Garry O'Connor – who left Easter Road for Lokomotiv Moscow in 2006 and has since returned to Russia for a second time, signing for Tom Tomsk in the summer – but Riordan is candid about his own time abroad. "It was very hard to adapt and the food was the main factor; I lost a stone in about three months. There was stuff running about your plate. I've said that to quite a few of the players that if they get the chance there then when it comes to the food they need to check everything first.
"At the time it was the right choice for me. I knocked back Lokomotiv Moscow when I was about 23 and I just felt like something different. I could go away and do Moscow no problem now. Russia is more westernised; there are people who speak English there but no-one spoke English where I was."