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Hearts legend moved to laud young Hibernian hero

JOHN ROBERTSON's first impression of the teenage Leigh Griffiths was that he might not be on University Challenge any time soon but he did possess something that you cannot teach.

Leigh Griffiths has scored 13 times this season
Leigh Griffiths has scored 13 times this season

The then Livingston manager set the Scotland internationalist on his path to stardom when he took him to Almondvale, and it didn't take long for him to become top pupil. No wonder the Hearts legend believes Hibernian's 13-goal striker is a potential matchwinner as the Edinburgh rivals renew their cup enmity in the William Hill Scottish Cup, just six months after their epoch-defining final encounter.

"My first thoughts when Leigh came in was that he wouldn't be on University Challenge any time soon, but that he was just a lovely lad," said Robertson. "He trained hard and had this natural ability to score goals, but what I really loved about him was he would try outrageous things, like just when you think he is going to cross it then next thing he is slewing it into the top corner.

"With the blonde white hair and mohican, he reminded of a young Derek Riordan. He had the ability to do the unexpected and score wonder goals but also score the goals that everyone scores. The only issue we had was trying to get him into the first team as quickly as we could."

Griffiths is on his second loan spell at Easter Road from parent club Wolverhampton Wanderers, with his contract in the Midlands due to expire next summer. Robertson feels that the Clydesdale Bank Premier League is a level at which Griffiths can thrive. It has helped him to become a bit less of a fan and more of a professional.

"The problem Leigh has got, similar to myself, is that when you go to England, even in League One, you will find that everyone is much bigger, stronger, quicker, much more physical, and given Leigh's build he is probably more suited to the SPL, just as I was," Robertson explained. "Leigh is Hibs daft, but in the early days he maybe let himself get carried away about that. I think Pat Fenlon has kept chipping away at him, given him two or three suspensions, two or three fines, and someone has had a word with him and told him to just concentrate on football. When he does that he is as good as any striker in the SPL."

Much has changed since these two teams last met in the Scottish Cup in May. Now it is Hibs who are hanging on the coat tails of Celtic, and Hearts who have an unfamiliar team and indifferent form. But perhaps this will allow a young Tynecastle side to approach the match free of pressure. "Both sides will want to win just as much on Sunday," he said. "But it's amazing how football throws up these little scenarios from time to time. Even if Hibs won 5-1 and reversed the scoreline it wouldn't make up for the cup final defeat but it would go a long way to easing the pain. Hearts have the chance to put one over their rivals again and for the first time knock them out the Scottish Cup twice in the same year.

"I spoke to my older brother, who is Hibs daft, and he said the Hibs fans will be excited and confident but the fear might return before the game, when reality sets in."

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