Steven Naismith expects his buoyant Hearts players to embrace the hostility of Easter Road on Wednesday evening as they bid to maintain their impressive recent form with an away win over city rivals Hibernian.
The Jambos go into the second Edinburgh derby of the season two points clear in third place in the cinch Premiership with a game in hand after winning six of their last eight league matches.
Hibs are unbeaten in the last three meetings between the teams but Naismith feels his Hearts team has enough big characters to deal with the size of the occasion and the “abuse” that is set to come their way from the home support.
“Derby games are always good,” said the Hearts boss. “As players you always enjoy them. I certainly went into them seeing them as an opportunity as an individual.
“But for us as a team it’s another good opportunity to get three more points and continue the consistency in results. It’s also against your rivals, so it’s easy to get up for it and be ready for it, and we will definitely be ready
“I liked playing at Easter Road as a Hearts player, I enjoyed the abuse I got and tried to use it to my advantage, and I would imagine it will be the same on Wednesday night.
“We have got characters in our changing room, guys who are brave on the ball and guys who know how to play the game, so we are going there with loads of confidence.”
Former Rangers, Everton and Scotland forward Naismith, who also played in the Old Firm and Merseyside derbies, believes the Edinburgh equivalent is also among Britain’s “proper” derby matches. He enjoyed hearing the Hearts supporters singing “bring on the Hibees” during their 2-0 win over St Mirren at Tynecastle on Saturday.
“Not every player gets to play in a proper derby, and this is a proper derby,” said the Hearts boss. “Against St Mirren, the Gorgie Ultras (Hearts fans) carried the crowd towards the end and really kept it going. It was a good atmosphere and it all added into the mix of the derby.
“We are in a good run of form , we are confident and we have a good, healthy squad. We are in a good place.”
Much of the feelgood factor around Hearts at present stems from the form of captain Lawrence Shankland, who has already struck 15 goals this term after notching 28 last season.
“I came off the back of a season last year when I scored a lot of goals,” he said. “I then had a wee dry spell after the European games earlier this season but I always believed I would be back scoring goals and I’m glad to see them going in.”
Shankland feels his team are in good fettle ahead of the derby after back-to-back 2-0 wins over Celtic and St Mirren.
“We’ve had two very good results,” he said. “Obviously Parkhead was a a big one for us and it was important to back it up against St Mirren.”
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