THERE is no hiding place in a derby match. Richie Towell was protected from the vociferous verbal onslaught from Hearts supporters by a thin sheet of Perspex when he visited Tynecastle earlier this season, safely seeing out the match as an unused substitute for Celtic huddled in the visitors’ dug out. Now on loan at Hibernian, the defender will likely be right in the firing line at Easter Road tomorrow.
That night back in November was Towell’s first experience of the turbulent atmosphere created by Hearts supporters, a night which was stoked by several acrimonious events on the pitch – including a penalty that was not given for Celtic, and the dismissal of Joe Ledley. Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, was also sent to the stand for his reaction to those incidents as Hearts won 2-0.
Towell has no intention of returning to the shelter of the bench, though. The 19-year-old is aware Hibs’ players will be targeted for abuse by visiting fans the moment they step out for their warm up despite the match being at Easter Road, but he is looking forward to it all the same.
“When we went to play against Hearts you could see how their fans are and how they react to Celtic players,” he said. “I’m sure they will be the same with Hibs players. But I don’t care, I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m sure the Hearts fans will give me stick – especially as I’m an Irish boy, and a Catholic as well. I think they’ll take it out a bit more on me so I’ll have to be on guard against that. Even just going out to warm up they’ll give a bit. I suppose that’s natural.
“I have to say that I thought it was worse at Hearts than it was at Rangers. That seems to be the case now but that gets you going, it’s enjoyable. You could see the tackles that were going in and we got a player sent off in that game in November. I could sense the rivalry in that game.”
The fervour will only be increased tomorrow. There has been plenty of controversy in Edinburgh derbies over the years – Derek Riordan was sent off for a reckless lunge on Rudi Skacel back in November – but Towell will use any animosity to his advantage.
“It brings out the best in you when you’re getting a bit of stick, it makes you want to give everything and makes you try harder,” he said. “It’s a big derby but I think I know what to expect. It’s similar to Rangers v Celtic and hopefully it will be a good one.”
There could also be those in the stands with little interest in the aesthetic of the derby, let alone the final result, of course. Speculation has emerged linking Riordan with a move to Turkish club Eskisehirspor as the Hibs striker has yet to agree a new contract. Clubs from Germany and the npower Championship could also send scouts to run the rule over Riordan, although that appears to be having little effect on Colin Calderwood, the Hibs manager.
“With Derek we’re both going to get to the end of the season and then sit down and try and work something out. We both understand the situation,” he said. “There will be speculation but there is nothing that can happen to make an impact now. We’re governed by the transfer regulations. We’re both comfortable getting to the end of the season and then we’ll have a chat then.”
Calderwood has enough to occupy his thoughts as he looks to arrest a run that has seen his side lose their last four meetings with Hearts. Hibs did not got off to the best start, though, as their under-19 side lost 1-0 to their Edinburgh rivals this week. Scott Robinson, the Hearts striker, suffered facial injuries during that match, but it has only increased his desire to be involved at Easter Road.
“I played against Hibs on Tuesday for the Under-19s and that’s how I have the knock on my nose, it was an elbow from one of the centre-halves. You’ve got to go in for everything,” said Robinson. “At any level the derby games can be feisty. I’ve been at Hearts since Under-14s, and whenever I’ve played in a derby it’s been a big occasion. Obviously the players know what it means to the club.
“You can’t hold back. In any game you’ve got to give your all, but derbies are that bit more important. Hopefully the Under-19 win is a good omen but it’ll definitely be a much harder game at first team level.”
Given his inexperience Robinson is perhaps unlikely to start against Hibs, but he knows you are never too young to make an impact in a derby. The 19-year-old watched from the stand as Gordon Smith scored with a volley to earn Hearts a draw at the same ground last season, and he would like to emulate his youth team-mate.
“Scoring against Hibs is probably the highlight of Gordon’s career,” he said. “I was really happy for him.”