By ANTHONY BROWN
Amid the bedlam of a packed-out Tynecastle on Sunday, four men once regarded among the most impressive non-Old Firm midfielders in Scotland will hope to take more positive steps towards restoring their respective reputations.
Three years ago, Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben brought an end to their fruitful time as colleagues at Dundee United in order to take their careers to what they hoped would be the next level down in England.
A year later, Scott Robertson, who had shone alongside Gomis and Buaben at Tannadice, did likewise. And last summer, Liam Craig left St Johnstone, where he’d established himself as a reliable goal-scoring midfielder, to try and further himself at Hibs.
All four players would admit that things haven’t quite gone to plan since first leaving Tayside. On Sunday, they will line up in the engine room in Gorgie hoping to provide the foundations for their respective teams to flourish. Gomis and Buaben will be the two men asked to knit things together in the Hearts midfield, while Robertson and Craig will perform a similar role for Hibs.
David Robertson, now at Livingston, has played with all four of the aforementioned midfielders during his stints at Dundee United and St Johnstone, and has no fears about any of them being found wanting in what promises to be a frenzied first Edinburgh derby of the Championship season.
“The middle of the park will be massive for both teams on Sunday,” said Robertson. “With it being a derby, I’d expect it to be pretty frantic with tackles flying in and a lot of pressure on the ball. None of those boys will get much time to play, but they’ll all be able to handle it no problem. They’re all good athletes and will be able to graft all day.”
Hearts fans have been encouraged about how Gomis and Buaben have fared since renewing their successful partnership in pre-season, and their former team-mate believes they have every right to be optimistic. “Morgaro and Prince were really big players at Dundee United,” said David Robertson. “They’re both solid players who were good enough to play in England. I don’t know why things didn’t work out for them down there, but they’ve proved they can play at the highest level in Scotland and win things and I expect them both to bring out the best in each other and have a big season at Hearts.
“They are both very similar. They’re outstanding at harrying people and getting the ball back. That’s a big part of their game and it’s something you need playing in Scotland. They’re incredibly fit boys, good off the ball, and are both comfy in possession. I actually can’t think of many differences between them apart from Morgaro is left-footed and Prince is right-footed. Even with goal-scoring, they both scored roughly the same amount of goals, although I beat them both every year!”
Gomis and Buaben will be aiming to get the upper hand over their old midfield colleague Robertson on Sunday. The Hibs midfielder’s namesake, David, has no doubt that his old team-mate can get back on track after an ill-fated move to Blackpool and an underwhelming start to his Hibs career.
“When Scott first came to United [in 2009] he was outstanding. He had a brilliant first season and got himself into the Scotland squad, but then he had a few injuries that held him back a bit after that. Scott gets forward a bit more than Morgaro and Prince. He’s excellent with the ball at his feet and, like the other two, he’s good at winning the ball back.
“I’m not sitting on the fence but I genuinely think there’s nothing between Scott, Morgaro and Prince in terms of how good they are. They’re all really similar players with great engines.”
A man who has produced his best form more recently than the former Tannadice trio is Liam Craig, who won his move to Hibs after excelling the season before last.
“Liam’s a bit different to the other three because he’s more of a goalscoring midfielder than them,” said Robertson, a St Johnstone team-mate of Craig’s for a year and a half. “He’s playing more of a sitting role at Hibs, whereas at St Johnstone he was more of a wide player which let him get forward a bit more, but I’d still fancy him to score more than the other three boys [Gomis, Buaben and Robertson] this season.
“He’s got a great left foot and has proven over a good few seasons that if he gets anywhere near goal, he’ll score. When he gets his head up, he’s got a great range of passing. I can totally understand why they play him in the middle because with Hibs being a young team, they’ll view him and Scott as the leaders and want to have them playing centrally.
Some Hibs fans remain unconvinced by Craig and Robertson following their part in last season’s relegation, but their old colleague is adamant that they will prove this season why Pat Fenlon brought them to the club last year.
“I know Liam and Scotty got relegated last season, but they’ll definitely be able to get back to the form they showed before they went to Hibs,” continued the Livingston player. “Liam scored regularly for three or four seasons for St Johnstone in the SPL and Scott Robertson’s always done well at that level. The two of them maybe didn’t have a great season last year, but they’re both quality players and they’ll do well this season, I’ve absolutely no doubt about that.”
With Hearts and Hibs starting the season with relatively youthful squads, Gomis, 29, Buaben, 26, Robertson, 29, and Craig, 27, will be required to bring leadership as well as midfield dominance to their respective teams.
“With so many young players coming through, Liam and Scotty will be expected to be the main men for Hibs this season, and it’ll be the same for Morgaro and Prince at Hearts because they’ll be two of their senior players,” said Robertson. “All four could definitely still be playing in the Premiership – I don’t think there’s any doubt about that – but there aren’t many bigger clubs around than Hibs and Hearts so they’re still doing alright for themselves.”