As a Borders boy, Hibs skipper Liam Craig confesses to having a soft spot for Berwick Rangers, coming as he does from Chirnside just seven miles away.
But, while Sunday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final with the League Two outfit is the tie everyone wanted before darts world champion Gary Anderson made the draw, Craig insists Colin Cameron’s side won’t prove to be a soft touch after the Shielfield Park side earned their place in the last eight with a replay win over Spartans.
For a start, there’s a clutch of former Hibs youngsters – Lee Currie, David Gold, Steven Notman and Billy Bald – returning to Easter Road with a point to prove, while ex-Hearts midfielder Cameron himself at the age of 42 will relish the opportunity to rekindle memories of the many Edinburgh derbies he played in.
And Craig is well aware of the pitfalls which could engulf Alan Stubbs’ players, recalling how as a St Johnstone player he was given a fright when Brechin City held the Perth club to a 2-2 draw at the same stage of the competition.
He said: “At the time of the draw, I said this was the tie every club wanted. That wasn’t showing disrespect to Berwick, just being realistic. But it’s not a case of just turning up – we are going to have to work hard for everything we get. If we are not at it, Berwick have players that will hurt us.
“Colin Cameron has brought himself back in to the side because he knows how big his experience could be. He was a top player and he knows Berwick have some good young players including a few ex-Hibs boys.
“I read after Berwick had beaten Spartans that David Gold was looking forward to making his Easter Road debut, albeit for Berwick and not Hibs. He’s the one I played with here and straight away you could tell he really had something about him but unfortunately he found it tough to break in to the first team.
“I played with Stevie Notman in the Borders Select team when we were younger, another good technical player, and I’ve played against Lee Currie a few times. However, we can’t dismiss the rest of them – they will come to make it hard for us. It’s the quarter-finals, they are not there by luck. They have worked hard to get there and they’ll feel they can come here and upset us.
“We have to make sure we do the things we work on this week. We won’t take them lightly and we’ll do the work we always do whether it’s Rangers, Alloa or Berwick.
“It’s a game I’m looking forward to. Berwick are the closest senior club to Chirnside, seven miles up the road. My family still live there and I continue to look out for their results. I actually played 11-a-side football there when I was 11 or 12 – but it was miles away from the first team,”
While agreeing Hibs go into the match as “heavy, heavy favourites”, Craig also conceded it’s one of those games which presents Stubbs and his players with a “no-win” scenario. However, he insisted the Easter Road side, having lost just one of their last 19 Championship fixtures, are well equipped to deal with any opposition as they prepare to go for success on two fronts.
A play-off place beckons, as does the possibility of a Hampden cup final, but Craig was adamant the approach which has served him and his team-mates so well in recent months will continue to be enforced, that old cliche of looking no further than the next game.
He said: “It’s a big game, the chance for a semi-final but we have been successful over the last few months because we take each game as it comes. That was the attitude before Alloa at the weekend because we knew how important it was going to be with Rangers and Falkirk having dropped points the previous night.
“That’s been our mindset, to look after ourselves. We’ve been on a good run and now we want to extend it on Sunday and beyond.”
It’s too early to ask whether Craig would take Scottish Cup glory or promotion but the fact both remain live issues is, as far as 28-year-old is concerned, a sign of the progress made over the course of the past few months, a head of steam having now replaced the stuttering start made following the shock of relegation.
He said: “It’s great we are talking about it. At the start of the season, if you had said to us we’d be in the quarter-finals of both cups – and hopefully be going further in the Scottish – and be pushing for promotion, well, that’s what we would have wanted.”
Beating Ross County away and then only losing to Dundee United in a sudden-death penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals of the League Cup provided, Craig believes, the turning point, instilling a belief that has never wavered since.
He said: “When you look at the so-called bigger games, I think we have been well-equipped to deal with them. Going up to Ross County is never easy but we won 2-0. The United game was probably one of our best performances – scoring three against them was something few teams had done at that stage of the season.
“As the season has gone on, we have got stronger and taken a lot of confidence from games like the one at Ibrox a couple of weeks ago where, performance-wise, we didn’t play great but found a way to win it. The boys have shown a lot of character, but in the last few weeks we have also seen the strength of the squad as well when you look at the players who have dropped out and those who have come in.
“The manager has been able to rest one or two here and there because we know how important the next few weeks are going to be. Sunday is the start of three games in six days so it we are to be successful this year, whether it’s in the cup or in the play-offs, it will need everyone to play their part.”