Hearts will be looking to increase their lead over Hibs to four points in Gorgie. Joel Sked looks at how they could do it.
“I thought we did start too slowly. We tried to pass it, which worked at times. It’s one thing passing the ball but as a Hearts team you’ve got to win second balls, play better than your man and be more aggressive than your man. A lot of people didn’t do that on Saturday.”
Those were the words of John Souttar after Hearts’ defeat to Hamilton. In recent months the team have started too slowly in games, and that was the case against Aberdeen last Saturday as it was on Wednesday at Ibrox. It is imperative for Hearts teams to start with tempo and plenty of energy, especially at Tynecastle. Fans wants to see the team win those second balls Souttar talked about, win individual battles with aggression.
It becomes even more important in Edinburgh derbies. The last thing Craig Levein will want to do on Saturday is try and rouse his players after a slow start. To win the game, a high energy, almost frenetic start is paramount.
Dundee didn’t take advantage of it, neither did St Johnstone. But Celtic and Rangers did.
When Hibs lose the ball they can, at times, be vulnerable. Tying it into Hearts’ fast start, the home side need to be alert to situations where they can spring forward or ‘sack’ a Hibs midfielder to win possession.
The positive of the Tynecastle pitch and the nature of the game is that there will be plenty of opportunities to win possession. Yet, in the same vein, there is less ground to have to make up to recover the ball. So if Hearts are presented with such a situation they’ll need to be swift and have a cool head.
Use Uche wisely
When Uche Ikpeazu is on the pitch the team can be guilty of using him too much. He is an easy out ball. Fire it into his feet and hope he holds off the attention of opponents. It results in Hearts being too predictable and the striker trying to do too much.
They have to be wise, especially with Ikpeazu coming up against Darren McGregor. Unstoppable force meets immovable object. Funnelling the ball into that situation could see it ‘lost’ for periods. There is a requirement for Uche to use the ball quickly.
If he gets the chance to face up and opponent one-on-one, take it. But if surrounded he needs to be more savvy than he has been previously and shift it to team-mates who are better placed and in space.
Stop Kamberi to McNulty link
Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom has been shrewd in moving Florian Kamberi wide to give the team greater balance. It has not diluted the attacking threat the team possess. The Swiss forward has been good at getting the ball, firing it into Marc McNulty and moving into a forward position.
It causes problems for defenders. Who picks up Kamberi when he drifts infield and who follows McNulty when he drops of and links the play?
Michael Smith’s return could be timely. His experience at right-back will help thwart such movements. The Northern Irishman will be more capable at knowing which positions to take, plus his previous games at centre-back where he has excelled.
Communication between the right-back - or wing-back- and John Souttar will be vital.
Press Stephane Omeonga
The on-loan Genoa midfielder has been a revelation for Hibs. In the first eight fixtures he was available for he played just 157 minutes. But in that time he quickly became a fans’ favourite with his all-action style and persuaded Heckingbottom he deserved a more central role.
In the subsequent five games he has featured for more than 410 minutes and developed into the fulcrum. The Belgian is a jack of all trades and it’s no surprise a lot of the play goes through him. He can muck in defensively, he is combative as seen when he angered Youssouf Mulumbu during the draw with Kilmarnock during the week. He drives forward with the ball and has the vision and ability to cut open defences.
His poorest performance came in the 2-1 win at Livingston. He was subbed with the scores at 0-0. He found it difficult against Livi’s own midfield powerhouse Steve Lawson who never gave him an inch. Someone in the Hearts midfield will have do to just that to lessen Omeonga’s influence.
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