NOBODY needs to tell Paul Hanlon the respective league status of both Hearts and Hibernian will be an utter irrelevance when the two Edinburgh clubs meet in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final this evening.

He helped the Easter Road outfit to defeat their capital rivals in a quarter-final replay back in 2016 when they were in the second tier and their opponents occupied the top flight.

The centre half’s dramatic injury-time equaliser in the first game at Tynecastle, which the hosts had led 2-0 with 10 minutes remaining, made him a hero down Leith way long before his side had lifted the trophy for the first time in 114 years.

The roles are reversed this time around – Jack Ross’s men are riding high in the Premiership while Robbie Neilson’s charges are bidding to clinch promotion out of the Championship.

Hanlon, who made his debut for Scotland at Hampden at the age of 30 earlier this month when he came on in the Nations League win over the Czech Republic, knows from personal experience that will have no bearing on the final outcome.

“There was no fear from us going into those games back then,” he said. “I’m sure Hearts will feel the same. They’ll have confidence they can beat us and we’re full of confidence we can beat them.

“Looking at their squad it’s one that could compete in the Premiership, there’s no doubt about that. So there’s absolutely no chance we’ll be taking this lightly just because they are playing in a different division this year.”

The defender doesn’t dwell on past glories. He is more concerned with what may happen in the future than what took place in the past and is excited about what the current Hibs side can achieve under Ross going forward.

He does, however, see some parallels with the side that recorded that historic triumph four years ago in terms of the form they had been displaying. Hanlon and his team mates are in third place in the Premiership having won seven, drawn three and lost just two of their 12 league games to date.

“At that time, we were full of confidence,” he said. “We had beaten a number of Premiership teams in both of the cups. So, I don’t think we used that as extra motivation. It was just that we had the confidence to do it.

“Going into this weekend, we have that confidence again that we can win off the back of the league start we have had. If we play the way we have been then hopefully that will be enough for us to win this match.

“With the form we’ve shown and the way the season’s gone so far, I think it probably doesn’t matter who we were playing this weekend, we would be going into it confident anyway.

“The manager’s great with us - keeping our confidence levels high but at the same time making us aware of what wins us games and why we’re winning games. He hammers that home to us regularly. I’m sure he’ll be reminding us of everything we’ve done well and everything to be aware of, in terms of Hearts.”

Not having any supporters inside the 52,000-capacity arena this evening due to the coronavirus pandemic will mean the atmosphere in what is invariably a full-blooded fixture will be strangely subdued.

But Hanlon, the veteran of numerous battles between the age-old foes, is hopeful the play on the park will be every bit as intense as normal regardless of the unusual circumstances.

“We will go into the game expecting it to be a normal Edinburgh derby,” he said. “But you can’t get away from the fact that the fans usually have a huge influence as well. There is no doubt that they are a big loss to this game.

“When there are no fans, it is not the same. You don’t want the sting taken out of these fixtures, you want them to be all action and exciting to watch and hopefully that’s what it will be like at the weekend.”