Hibs are set to host their biggest crowd in 11 months when Championship title rivals Dundee United head to Easter Road tomorrow night.
More than 16,000 tickets have already been sold for the eagerly-awaited top-of-the-table showdown, and an expected surge between now and kick-off time should ensure it is the highest attendance for a fixture at the Leith ground since Hibs defeated Hearts 1-0 in a Scottish Cup fifth-round replay in front of 19,433 people on February 16 last year.
Hibs had around 1200 tickets left to sell for the home end last night, while United were in the process of selling an additional allocation of 644 after shifting their initial batch of 1900. The biggest attendance at Easter Road this season came on the opening day of the Championship campaign when 16,477 turned out to see a 2-1 victory over Dunfermline Athletic in August.
Since then, crowds for league matches have fluctuated between 13,881, for the home game against Dumbarton last month, and 15,492, for the last home match against United in October.
An anticipated attendance in excess of 17,000 tomorrow night would represent a significant increase on similarly important matches last season. For instance, the home play-off matches against Raith Rovers and Falkirk in May attracted just 11,133 and 11,830 respectively, while the two league games at home to eventual champions Rangers drew 14,412 and 12,231. The Europa League match at home to Brondby in July – Neil Lennon’s first in charge – attracted 13,454.
The size of tomorrow’s crowd – expected to be Hibs’ biggest for a league match since 20,106 watched Terry Butcher’s side beat Hearts 2-1 in the Premiership three years ago – owes a lot to increased season-ticket sales following their Scottish Cup triumph last May, but is also a sign of the importance of the match to two teams separated by only a point in the race for the Championship title.
Hibs are buoyed by having returned to the top of the table last Saturday after a late strike from Kris Commons secured a 2-1 victory at Falkirk, and they could have goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and key midfielder John McGinn back in the squad after injury lay-offs.
United travel to Easter Road looking to get back on track after having their 14-game unbeaten run ended by Dumbarton last weekend. Ray McKinnon, whose side have taken four points from their two matches against Hibs this season, is hopeful that star man Tony Andreu will have recovered from a rib injury in time to return to the side tomorrow night.