The Edinburgh Festival is in full swing in Scotland’s capital city but for the locals, the only show in town is Sunday’s derby between Hibernian and Hearts.

With thousands of tourists from all corners of the globe in the city to see the world’s largest arts festival, like all good shows, every Edinburgh Derby has a plot or sub-plot, and for me, this one is about change versus continuity.

Hibernian are going through change, yet again. Last season Jack Ross was sacked despite reaching the League Cup final. That led to Shaun Maloney getting his first job in management, only to be sacked four months later. It was results that led to Maloney’s dismissal – two defeats to Hearts in seven days in the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Cup piled on the pressure and added to the malaise that set in through the season.

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Hibernian
Hearts

Sunday 7th August 11:00am

Kick off 12:00pm

The answer, well the decision owner Ron Gordon and chief executive Ben Kensell came up with, was to appoint a former Hearts player as boss. Maybe too much is made of Lee Johnson’s brief spell at Tynecastle Park but he did play for Hibernian’s fiercest rivals. His number two, Jamie McAllister is also a former Hearts player who scored the winner for Livingston against Hibernian in the 2004 League Cup final.

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Lee Johnson (left) was appointed by Executive Chairman Ron Gordon (right) after sacking Shaun Maloney and Jack Ross

They have set about changing the squad with 11 new players coming in. The significant departure was young left-back Josh Doig heading to Hellas Verona for £3m.

Questions continue to get raised about the recruitment structure given the owner’s son Ian has the role of head of recruitment. When I asked Johnson to get clarity on who brings in players at the club during an interview in July, he said: “We get the budget from the owner, the CEO controls the budget in conjunction with myself and Ian Gordon.

“All the player ID and the final say comes from me, but it has to fit the financial parameters of the club. There is a lot of good work going on here, the recruitment team is vast.”

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The arrival of former Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall was almost over the line before Johnson arrived, but it looks to be a good signing. His experience and ability at the age of 37 will improve the squad. Johnson’s faith in Marshall is shown by the fact he has made him team captain.

Aiden McGeady is someone Johnson knows from his Sunderland days but an injury during a friendly against Norwich means he won’t feature in the early part of the league campaign. Other new faces will need to adapt quickly to Scottish football and show they are an improvement on the players they have replaced.

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Aiden McGeady faces months on the sidelines

Despite beating Clyde 5-0 in their opening League Cup group stage game, Hibernian failed to qualify, losing to third-tier Falkirk and on penalties at home to Greenock Morton, before it was revealed they fielded an ineligible player and the game, and three points were awarded to Morton.

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Hibernian were eliminated from the League Cup for fielding Rocky Bushiri against Greenock Morton

The attention this brought wouldn’t have helped Johnson but let’s be clear, while the administrative error confirmed their elimination from the tournament, the fact is their group stage results and performances were not of the standard required to reach the knockout phase.

A win on the opening day of the Scottish Premiership season against 10-man St. Johnstone was a big confidence booster and very much needed ahead of this big game. With the number of new players and the new manager looking to mould a team the way he wants, it will take time. Johnson can’t use that as an excuse if they lose to Hearts though.

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Highlights of Hibernian’s opening day win against St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership

Easter Road is sold out and regardless of the mitigating factors, the fans want results, especially in this fixture. Speaking to the manager this week, Johnson told me he appreciates that fact before admitting Hibernian need to turn around their recent derby form and perform better. It is a fair assessment especially given this is his first game in charge in this fixture.

While there is plenty of change at Easter Road, continuity has been key for Hearts who have of late reclaimed the bragging rights in Edinburgh. Since 2017, when Hibs returned to the top flight, they finished above Hearts each season in the Scottish football pyramid – that was until last season.

As well as a third-place finish, Hearts also took the significant step of qualifying for European group stage football, confirmed by beating Hibernian in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April. It gives access to extra revenue and gives fans something different to look forward to. Although competing on four fronts will come with challenges and extra games that will test the squad, I am sure fans of most Scottish clubs would take that to enjoy guaranteed Europa or Conference League football.

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Robbie Neilson guided Hearts back into the top-flight and European group stage football

It has been a rollercoaster journey for Hearts who just two years ago were relegated when the season was ended early due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of that decision and the fact Hearts would have had eight matches to save themselves, they had a terrible season.

However, the return of Robbie Neilson and the security of fan ownership through the Foundation of Hearts, plus continued backing from Ann Budge and James Anderson, the club are back to where they feel they at least belong, and they don’t want to stand still.

Continuity off the field and on it, with Neilson now adding quality rather than quantity with the likes of Lawrence Shankland, Alan Forrest and Jorge Grant to his squad has been key. The steadying influence of goalkeeper and captain Craig Gordon is huge too with Barrie McKay becoming more important with each passing game.

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Barrie McKay and Alan Forrest helped Hearts kick off the season with victory over Ross County

That stability is something Hibernian executive chairman Ron Gordon now needs. Some fans believe the club are still progressing while others are not so sure.

Hibernian have been working hard at Easter Road to finish construction work in the hospitality and supporter lounges. A better matchday experience and increased revenue are key to any business but if they find themselves on the end of a third derby defeat in a row, they will need to work even harder to convince fans they are making progress regardless of what is said.

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Despite Hibs having faced Hearts in the opening two rounds in eight of the last 19 seasons, Ron Gordon questioned why this fixture is being played early

If they win, the timing of the game is irrelevant, and Johnson can look at a 100 per cent league record early in his tenure with plenty to build on. For Hearts, they need a good start in the league before they look outside the capital city to Europe and group stage football.

Watch Hibernian vs Hearts live on Sky Sports Football from 11am on Sunday

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