This week's Scottish Premiership fixtures will mark the first Edinburgh derby of the season, with…
On Friday night the Scottish Premiership kicks off what has been marketed as an SPFL “rivals weekend” with Hibernian v Hearts at Easter Road. And although it may find itself tailored among a whole host of juicy derbies this match should prove to be worth plenty of attention and intrigue in its own right.
Although the last clash between these two teams saw Craig Levein’s side claim an important 1-0 win in the Scottish Cup, dominance in the league itself has been a domain in which Neil Lennon’s side have quickly and confidently ensured they claim.
With Hibs still chasing Rangers and Aberdeen for second place and Hearts desperately trying to keep in the top six before the league split, this could be one of the most important Edinburgh derbies in some time. And looking at the data there’s reason to believe that Hibs hold a notable advantage.
To predict how well Hibs will play on the night, we must first take a look at the rather bewildering manner of their home form this season. Although Lennon’s side seems capable of claiming the scalp of any team in the land, the style and competence of their performances in front of their own fans has been somewhat inconsistent so far in this current league campaign. And could cost them on Friday.
To put it into context, if the league was defined by home results alone Hibs would currently be sitting sixth. Right behind Rangers and Hearts, while level on points with Motherwell and Kilmarnock. Yet the same league table defined only by results on the road would have Lennon’s men sitting comfortably in third.
On the face of it, that would suggest that Hibs tend to bottle it at home and therefore should be wary of Hearts’ visit on Friday. Yet when we dig a little deeper into their form against the “top six” we find that such a conclusion isn’t entirely accurate.
The graph above shows Hibs’ points per game against Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Kilmarnock, Motherwell and Aberdeen in the league this season, as well as the very same figure but only for home matches. And as we can see Lennon’s team perform differently depending on the opposition.
When it comes to Kilmarnock, Rangers and Motherwell, there’s certainly a case to be made that the Leith side could have done better at Easter Road. Yet when it comes to Celtic, Aberdeen and, crucially, Hearts, they seem to be more than capable of raising their game. Which undoubtedly comes from Lennon’s ability to dispel any sense of complacency on derby day; as evident in the fact that the former Celtic manager has never lost a home game to Hearts since he took over in Leith.
Further encouragement for Hibs fans also comes in the form of Hearts’ performances in clashes at the top of the table this season. And how, despite Levein somewhat steadying the ship after Ian Cathro, the Tynecastle side still struggle when the quality of opposition takes a step up.
Although Hearts fans may have been optimistic ahead of their trip to Fir Park on Sunday, there’s very little evidence to suggest that the club enjoy high-pressure or tougher games. In fact, a large chunk of the club’s points total to date is made up of competent results against teams in the bottom half of the table, rather than picking up bigger scalps.
Levein’s side don’t have a 100% win record against any team in the Premiership this season. Yet they do have an unbeaten run against St Johnstone, Hamilton, Ross County, Aberdeen and Partick Thistle. And while fans may welcome that to a degree it’s pretty evident that all those clubs – aside from Derek McInnes’ side – are hardly the standard to which Hearts should be defining their standards to.
Indeed, when we look at Hearts’ PPG (points per game) against the aforementioned “top six” and compare it to Hibs’ we get a graph like the one above, with “Each other” referring to how both clubs have done against, well, each other this season. And as we can see there’s a demonstrable difference between how both clubs perform in these bigger games.
Aside from that shock 4-0 win over Celtic in December, Levein’s side don’t have a single head-to-head record against the Premiership’s top sides that can outdo their cross-city rivals this season. While Lennon’s side have picked up, on average, four times as many points per game in each encounter between the two.
Of course, as the old cliche goes, form and statistics go flying out the window on derby day but if Hearts do indeed show up on Friday night and dominate their opponents at Easter Road it would be something of an outlier to their form this season. And certainly can’t be something we predict or expect to see.