Analysis: Four key clashes to decide Hearts v Hibs
The fifth and final Edinburgh derby of the season takes place at Tynecastle Park on Wednesday evening.
For Hearts it is simply about bragging rights and ending the season on a high note. As for Hibs the game holds more significance as they look to finish second, ahead of Aberdeen and Rangers.
Despite the familiarity the teams have with one another the derby always throws up interesting battles.
Here are four key clashes for Wednesday’s game:
CHRISTOPHE BERRA v FLORIAN KAMBERI
There are few strikers who have managed to agitate Hearts centre-back Christophe Berra this season. Celtic’s Moussa Dembele has managed to do it, so to Motherwell’s Curtis Main. In the previous meeting between the Edinburgh rivals Hibs’ Florian Kamberi joined the very short list.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon and George Craig, head of football operations, have unearthed a real gem of a forward. Kamberi possess a combination of speed, strength, awareness, movement and goal threat. He’s played every minute of the 12 league games since arriving in January, scoring seven times, with Hibs unbeaten in that time.
Hearts captain Berra could have felt slightly hard done by not featuring on the shortlist for player of the season. He has been the model of consistency at the heart of the Jam Tarts defence, holding the team together single-handedly at times. He is able to use his brute strength and reading of the game to thwart attacks, passes and crosses.
In Kamberi, however, Berra has an adversary who embraces the physical challenge. The 23-year-old loanee uses his body well to protect the ball and make it awkward for defenders. With Demetri Mitchell likely to be pinned down by Martin Boyle, Kamberi could cause Berra problems by moving into the channel to the left. Dragging Berra wide will take him away from the box which he defends so well.
Berra v Kamberi should be an old-fashioned ding-dong between striker and defender which could prove pivotal to the direction of the game.
DEMETRI MITCHELL v MARTIN BOYLE
Hibs’ speedster Martin Boyle has caused one particular issue for numerous Hearts left-backs, he is too quick. In the last outing Connor Randall, filling in at left-back for Hearts, was given a chasing by the former Dundee and Montrose winger. The on loan Liverpool player was so discombobulated he forgot how to do the basics.
Boyle is not quite a winger. On paper he is a wing-back with the protection of Efe Ambrose behind him, the Nigerian more than comfortable confronting opponents in wide areas. The Hibs system suits Boyle as it allows him to start from deeper. That way he is getting passes played in front of him, with space to run into which means he is picking up pace by the time he takes on an opponent.
Demetri Mitchell is a different prospect for Boyle, especially on a narrow Tynecastle pitch with a grass length which so infuriated Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.
Hearts are a different team with Mitchell, Joaquim Adao and David Milinkovic. Mitchell provides two key qualities, pace and width. He is capable of not only matching Boyle for pace but also forcing him backwards with forward bursts of his own.
If Mitchell is aggressive with his play he can shut off a favoured attacking move of Hibs, the diagonal ball from John McGinn out to Boyle. Mitchell will have to be smart, however, with his positioning as McGinn is capable of dropping passes in behind for Boyle to scamper onto.
JOAQUIM ADAO v SCOTT ALLAN
Joaquim Adao and Scott Allan will reconvene the battle which they begun during Hibs 2-0 win at Easter Road in March. The Hibs midfielder grew frustrated with the attentions of Hearts’ Angolan international, so much so that he began to give as good as he was getting.
It will be another fascinating match-up with both players operating in the same zone of the pitch. The concern for Hearts is that Adao begins to take on too much responsibility in the midfield and vacate the areas in which Allan thrives.
As Hearts struggled to get back into proceedings against Celtic during Sunday’s 3-1 defeat, Adao began to appear everywhere, trying to influence the game. The last thing teams can give Allan is time in the midfield. Doing so will see the 26-year-old attempt to penetrate the Hearts defence. No player averages more through passes and key passes per 90 minutes in the Scottish Premiership this season than Allan.
Hibs are full of confidence and full of invention in midfield. If Adao stifles Allan, Hearts will begin to stifle Hibs. If not it could be a long night for the Hearts defence.
KYLE LAFFERTY v PAUL HANLON
During the second half of Hearts’ defeat to Celtic on Sunday Kyle Lafferty went down and signalled to the bench that he required to be substituted. With Steven MacLean not arriving until the summer Craig Levein had little to no option on the bench. The Northern Irishman carried on before being replaced towards the end. He is likely to be available for the Hibs game.
Despite foibles to his game, namely an erratic first touch and a tendency to drift to the periphery - and offside - he is an important player at Tynecastle. In and around the box he is potent and provides a focal point.
If Lafferty is canny he will avoid Darren McGregor and looks towards left-sided centre-back Paul Hanlon. The 28-year-old, who will likely captain Hibs, has been excellent this season. The nitty gritty side of his game has improved immeasurably but he has also been a great asset in attacking for Hibs, carrying the ball out from the back or becoming an option on the left during games.
It is that space in which Lafferty thrives, picking up the ball and shooting across the goalkeeper from the angle.
For Hanlon it asks the question: stay in position and temper the attacking urges or take the risk, provide Hibs with another angle in which to attack but leave space in behind.