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Edinburgh derby: Changing rooms

As if overcoming the trauma prompted by relegation from the Premiership was not enough of an obstacle to overcome for Alan Stubbs when he walked into Easter Road this summer, Hibernian's new head coach has laid bare the extent of the off-field alterations that he was required to make - changes that he hopes will bear fruit against Hearts today.

Alan Stubbs has not had his work to seek since arriving at Easter Road
Alan Stubbs has not had his work to seek since arriving at Easter Road

Stubbs maintains he has no intention of criticising the short-lived tenure of his predecessor Terry Butcher, who was relieved of his duties in the turbulent wake of the calamitous play-off defeat to Hamilton in May. Yet, in helping to implement a new broom to the football department of the Edinburgh club, the former Celtic and Everton defender has been shocked by the infrastructure he inherited. "When I came in we had 14 players, we had five young players who had been offered a contract and were then suddenly told they didn't have that contract," said the 42-year-old. "We had no physio, no fitness coach, no sports science involved. I had no assistant, no first-team coach, there was a scout/goalkeeping coach (Steve Marsella) - I don't know how that works but that was what was in place. Those are just some of the things we had to change."

Stubbs has worked quickly to install a regime he believes can be successful, encouraged by the dynamism of new chief executive Leeann Dempster and the appointment of George Craig as head of football operations.

"From day one to today, it's a million per cent better," he added. "From when I came in to where we are now is an unbelievable change, it really is. People don't realise what we've had to change over the last eight weeks in such a short space of time.

"I'm not sitting here blowing smoke up my own backside but the club - Leeann, George, myself, the players, the staff in here - have done an incredible amount to try and get us to where we are."

As well as a No 2, Andy Holden; a first-team coach, John Doolan; a goalkeeping coach, Alan Combe; a head of player identification and recruitment, Graeme Mathie; and an academy coaching manager, Eddie May, Stubbs has recruited five new players and apparently revitalised those who survived the devastation of dropping into the Championship.

The new set-up will be given a stern examination at Tynecastle and Stubbs acknowledges it may take time for his methods to take hold. The clear message, however, is that the fundamentals are being put in place to take Hibs forward with confidence for the future.

"We can't be scouting players on the back of a Wikipedia page and one individual's opinion," he said. "We need to have background checks, we need to know the medical history. We need to see them at least six to eight times and there was none of that in place, none of it whatsoever. At times, it was as if it was done off the cuff. As well as all that, I have had to look to bring in players and balance the squad."

All the meticulous planning in the comfort of the club's isolated East Mains training centre could seem to be a different world from what Stubbs, who played in Merseyside and Old Firm derbies, understands will likely be the 'harum scarum' of a sold-out encounter with Hearts today.

"A derby can, unfortunately, make 20 outfield players completely lose sight of why they're out there," he said. "I've got to be honest and I can class myself as one of them in the past. You can completely lose yourself within everything.

"We want to be able to channel our emotions the right way and use the atmosphere as a positive to get a result. You can get caught up in tackles, you can get caught up in skirmishes, and it's raw emotion. We've got to be calm, we've got to be calculated and we've got to rise above that."

The scene is set for one of the most compelling Edinburgh derbies in years and Stubbs's counterpart, Robbie Neilson, reckons that the physical edge that attached itself to recent meetings between the teams might be banished to the past.

Both clubs have impressed in the early weeks of the campaign with a new-found commitment to passing and building from the back.

It remains to be seen whether slick football will flourish on derby day but Neilson believes the two sides are ready to put on a show in front of a sell-out crowd and watching TV audience.

"Football is changing," he said. "In the last five or 10 years, tackling early to put a mark on the game has stopped because you get booked. Referees are officiating it differently now. It's not quite as physical and we are getting to see more football, which is great for the fans and good for the technical players.

"It will start off at 100 miles per hour and people pressing all over the pitch but eventually it will die down a little bit and we'll start playing some football There is still a need for fight and spirit but we are now starting to see a bit more football in all games, no matter where you play.

"Hibs also want to play attractive football this season, I've watched them a few times and they're passing it well, so hopefully Sunday will be a good game to watch."

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