While the Edinburgh Derby might not be Scotland’s most renowned footballing derby, there is a case to be made that it best captures Scottish football’s essence of rivalry.
These games aren’t always the prettiest, they don’t always capture much attention beyond Hadrian’s Wall and abroad, but you’ll find few in the capital city who won’t care.
In recent years, both Hearts and Hibernian have enjoyed something of a renaissance.
The two clubs found themselves the victim of neglect at boardroom level, particularly in the case of Hearts who were just a fans take-over away from financial oblivion. As recently as 2015, Edinburgh’s two biggest clubs were slumped in the Scottish Championship.
Hearts and Hibs both occupied top half places in the Scottish Premiership last season.
The former finished third in 2015/16 season, with the latter taking fourth place just two seasons ago.
With the first Edinburgh Derby of the new season looming this Sunday, though, the picture is dramatically different.
Rather than being a meeting of two teams on the up, as has been the case in recent years, this will be a clash between two rivals in similarly perilous situations with ninth-place Hibernian taking just four points from their first five league fixtures and Hearts rooted to the foot of the Scottish Premiership table.
The jobs of Paul Heckingbottom and Craig Levein could well be on the line.
Sunday’s Edinburgh Derby could turn out to be a death match between two men fighting for their managerial lives at their respective clubs. The pressure has been building on both managers for quite some time, but a breaking point is nearing.
Hearts supporters turned out in their numbers to protest against Levein after Saturday’s home defeat to Motherwell, a result that left the Jam Tarts still without a win at Tynecastle this season.
Going back to February 1, when Hearts beat Kilmarnock in a league match at Rugby Park, Levein has led his side to just two wins from 19 games. That’s relegation form and their current league position reflects that.
Hibs haven’t fared much better of late.
They too suffered a dismal end to the 2018/19 season, winning just one of their last six games (against Hearts) and have yet to register a victory in the league since the opening weekend of the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership season.
Currently perched just two points from bottom place, Hibernian’s situation is also accurately illustrated by their league position.
Heckingbottom made an initially positive impact upon taking over from Neil Lennon earlier this year, but frustration has simmered over the past few weeks and months. Hibs have been exceptionally soft under his charge, often capitulating at the first setback, with the 42-year-old’s summer transfer business also scrutinised.
Signings like Christian Doidge and Josh Vela look well off the required standard.
With all this in mind, it’s hard to make the argument that Saturday’s match at Easter Road will present the best Scottish football can offer, but if one likes blood-sports it will be well worth a watch. These games tend to be attritional at the best of times. This weekend’s clash could be something else. It might not be immediately recognisable as football.
But it will be fully illustrative of just how far these two teams have fallen in the last year or so. Not so long ago, Hearts and Hibernian were looking upwards, plotting a course to becoming the best of the rest in Scotland.
Now, they are looking downwards again. This already feels like rock bottom for both Edinburgh clubs, but a derby defeat this Saturday would open another trapdoor for one of the two to fall through.