Hibernian head coach Neil Lennon has no regrets over their decision not to pursue an Edinburgh derby postponement despite losing up to 11 players.
Hibs could have sought to call off Saturday’s Easter Road clash with Hearts after Australia insisted Martin Boyle, Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren join up with their Asian Cup squad after the Boxing Day fixtures.
Lennon has since lost Lewis Stevenson for up to eight weeks with a hamstring injury while Ryan Porteous has also dropped out with a knee injury.
They join Miquel Nelom, Thomas Agyepong, Ofir Marciano and Ross Laidlaw in the treatment room while the injured Charalampas Mavrias has left the club ahead of the expiry of his contract. Marvin Bartley is facing a race to return from injury.
But the Australian trio might not be back until after the Asian Cup final on February 1 and Lennon did not want to upset his team’s rhythm.
“I want to play the game,” he said. “We are six unbeaten.
“You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s all right for Hibs fans talking in hindsight but we have still got a strong enough team to go out there and perform and be competitive and win the game.
“If we had called the game off, there would have been a huge outcry, a lot of disappointment, and you don’t know when you will play the rescheduled fixture. We could have a lot of injuries by that time as well.
“If you call off the Hearts game, do you then call off the Elgin game, the Motherwell game if Australia are still in the tournament? You could be six weeks without a game.
“We have been running on fumes in terms of the squad for the past couple of weeks anyway and the lads are playing well. We have played Celtic and Rangers and been undefeated – wouldn’t have seen that coming.
“They are in good spirits and they are due a break but at the minute we are focusing on winning the derby.”
Lennon was struck by a coin at the previous derby and police visited both clubs this week to discuss security issues.
“They were in a few days just to give us an update, which is fine,” Lennon said.
“It was pretty routine, not over-egging anything. The players will be focused on the game and nothing else.”
Several Hibs players and match officials were the target of missiles at Tynecastle and Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal was floored by an alleged assault. But Hibs midfielder Stevie Mallan loved the atmosphere.
“I wouldn’t say it was difficult,” the former St Mirren and Barnsley midfielder said.
“It gives you that extra motivation when there’s a big crowd on your back, home or away. It’s occasions like this that I love to be involved in.
“It was the first time I had played at Tynecastle, and it was brilliant. It was a hostile environment, there was so many Hearts fans so it was just dog’s abuse. Because I was hitting corners and the pitch is so tight, you hear all sorts. Some of it is funny.
“And you could see the Hibs fans behind the goal and they were singing constantly. It was an eye-opener for me, my first Edinburgh derby, and I loved it.
“I said after the game I couldn’t wait for the Easter Road derby to see what our fans are like.”
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