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Yes, it will feel like an elephant is missing from the corner of the room in Edinburgh

T HERE were happy blokes on Dalry Road yesterday who would tell you Hibs are so enthusiastic about Edinburgh derbies they intend to make sure there are four of them in the SPFL Championship.

No explanation required for football fans in Edinburgh, as long as you can make out the numbers. Picture: PA
No explanation required for football fans in Edinburgh, as long as you can make out the numbers. Picture: PA

Hearts await the arrival of the coroner to formally confirm that they are goners, a condemned team which will be formally relegated from the SPFL Premiership as soon as they lose a game. They tapdanced on the trapdoor yesterday but that stirring defeat of Hibs ensured they live to fight another day. Did Hearts look broken or despondent about what's about to happen to them? Not a bit of it. They lapped it up.

Hibs arrived with balloons and party streamers, ready to turn the gloating up to 11. They left muttering and cursing. They were supposed to put Hearts out of their misery yesterday and instead it all backfired in their faces. Now Hibs themselves are in growing trouble.

These were compelling subplots around the penultimate capital derby of the season. Anyone within five miles of Tynecastle was at risk of getting a jolt from the atmosphere which fizzed and crackled like a Catherine wheel.

Over there, Leigh Griffiths drinking and singing with his mates then taking a seat in the Hibs end. Over there, a massive Hearts flag saying simply "19/05/12": if you needed that explained you didn't deserve your ticket.

Over there, a Hibs fan running on to the pitch after Alan Maybury was sent off.

Over there, Hearts goalie Jamie MacDonald picking up a broken seat some eejit had chucked on the pitch.

Over there, Jamie Walker and Ben Williams briefly scuffling after full time.

Over there, Gary Locke going mental in victory and looking for all the world like he wanted to throw himself in among the Jambos in the enclosure.

Here, there and everywhere it was a vivid assault on the senses.

There was football too, sort of. That characteristically Edinburgh derby kind of football that is about as calm and composed as a game going on inside a washing machine on its spin cycle. Agricultural, you might call it, or full-blooded if you're being generous. Tynecastle is a brilliant cauldron which packs the two tribes closely. Taunt and counter-taunt flew back and forth. "No Hearts on Fifa" the Hibees chanted, referring to the computer game and its focus on top-flight leagues. They lost the game but that was chant of the day.

This is what we'll miss next season. Yes, Hibs' current tailspin might take them all the way down to the Championship too but it still seems unlikely that four teams will overtake them and they'll then lose a play-off. It's more probable that Hearts and Hibs will be separated, at least for a year, and that Scottish football will be robbed of its second biggest fixture, having already lost its first.

It's now 23 months since Celtic and Rangers last faced each other. Every time there's a cup draw these days - when Celtic and Rangers both manage to survive in them, that is - there is a palpable holding of breath lest they be paired together. If they continue to avoid each other in the cups it'll probably be roughly a year and a half, in the autumn of the 2015-16 Premiership season, when they next meet. Tens of thousands will be like addicts needing their fix long before that.

Edinburgh will soon face its withdrawal symptoms. There's a line in Hector Nicol's The Hearts Song - the anthem which stirs them up before games at Tynecastle - which goes: "While we sometimes go down we can aye go back up." There was a while around the end of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s when Hearts and Hibs were both pretty hopeless, both getting relegated and somehow missing each other for four consecutive seasons. It's unimaginable that they could go so long without meeting this time, and a depressing thought for those - on both sides - who sat and stood through the adrenaline rush of yesterday's drama.

In Hearts watering holes such as The Tynecastle Arms and Diggers the matchday regulars will badly miss the Hibs games, even if it won't be the done thing to admit it. Over their pints in Tamsons or The Four in Hand, the Hibees faithful will know there's something missing when the Premiership fixtures are released this summer (again, assuming they've survived themselves). For both of them it'll feel like there's an elephant missing from the corner of the room.

Hibs' two biggest home crowds of this season were for Hearts games. The derby on January 2 attracted 20,106. When Celtic came in October there were just over 14,000. We haven't quite seen the last of the Edinburgh derby. There will be one more this season after the split, at Easter Road. Who knows what the intrigues of the day will be. Maybe a Hearts win would condemn Hibs to the play-offs. But if Terry Butcher has drawn some sort of response from his players by then they'll have eased themselves to safety.

What really must be faced is the prospect of the derby being lost for at least one season and maybe more. Like those times when the Castle is behind scaffolding, or Princes Street Gardens are closed, Edinburgh is going to be worse off until they're together again, goading and mocking each other in their 90-minute spin cycle.

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