Hearts host Hibs in yet another Scottish Cup tie - the third consecutive season the Easter Road side will make the short trip to face their city rivals. Patrick McPartlin looks at the biggest talking points ahead of the cup derby
No Stokes without ire?
Before Friday morning, the biggest pre-derby story was undoubtedly Hearts’ acquisition of Steven Naismith on a loan deal until the end of the season. But late on Thursday, reports began to circulate suggesting that Anthony Stokes, Hibs’ mercurial marquee signing, may have played his last game for Neil Lennon’s side. A series of off-the-field incidents is said to have pushed the Hibs backroom staff to its limit, with rumours the former Celtic and Sunderland striker could be on his way out before the end of the January transfer window.
Stokes played the last 90 minutes for Hibs the last time the two teams met, but it remains to be seen if the Irishman has any involvement on Sunday.
Hibs defeated Hearts 1-0 without Stokes in October at Easter Road and furthermore, statistics show that Hibs have won just one league game in which Stokes has scored - last month’s 2-1 win over Ross County.
He also netted in the 4-1 loss to Aberdeen at Pittodrie, the 2-1 home defeat to St Johnstone, the 2-2 home draw with Motherwell, the 1-1 draw with Dundee at Dens Park and the 3-1 home loss to Hamilton.
Hibs aren’t without options up front if Stokes is ommitted; young striker Oli Shaw ‘scored’ in the last match between these two sides while Simon Murray, Martin Boyle and new loan signing Jamie Maclaren will be pushing for a starting spot.
Lithuanian forward Deivydas Matulevicius, who came on as a substitute during December’s fixture despite being told earlier that month that he was free to leave, could also be named in the squad if Stokes isn’t included.
Naismith v Maclaren
On the subject of strikers, Steven Naismith and Jamie Maclaren could both play a part in Sunday’s match. Both have signed short-term loan deals from Norwich City and SV Darmstadt 98 respectively.
Naismith has already spoken of his desire to be playing regularly, after falling out of favour at Norwich and battling injury.
Maclaren, too, is eyeing game time but is also targeting a place in Australia’s 2018 World Cup squad.
Hearts are desperate for quality in the final third while Hibs have been crying out for a penalty box striker in the mould of Jason Cummings - Naismith and Maclaren look like being perfect fits for their respective clubs.
Whether they both start is debateable, but the duo will almost certainly see action for their respective sides at some point in the match.
Life’s a pitch
The last meeting between the two teams was not pretty.
Statistics showed there was just one shot on target in the entire game as the game largely became a showcase for the aerial skills of Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor.
The last three matches between these two sides at Tynecastle have ended in draws; the infamous 2-2 draw when Hibs came back from two goals down at half time on their way to winning the Scottish Cup, followed by the 0-0 draw in the second Scottish Cup meeting and then the goalless draw last month on league duty.
It would be a very optimistic person that predicted anything other than another gritty game of attrition on Sunday, especially given the recent snowy weather and cold temperatures in the Capital.
Recent photos appear to show Hearts using a heat treatment on the pitch ahead of the game but it remains to be seen if this will have much of an effect on the quality of a game that in recent seasons has become more of a battle than a football match.
Harry Cochrane’s absence from the Hearts midfield during the last meeting between the rivals was noticeable.
The visitors edged a hard-fought midfield battle and while Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn will likely line up for Hibs, the presence of Cochrane - one of the best passers of the ball at Tynecastle - should make for an intriguing ding-dong in the engine room.
Cochrane’s goal against Celtic in the stunning 4-0 win over the champions showed how far he’s come since he appeared for the second half of Hibs’ 1-0 win over Hearts at Easter Road in late October.
He showed in that game that he can produce the goods on the big occasion, and while Hearts will be without Kyle Lafferty up top, the return of Cochrane and his midfield colleague Arnaud Djoum could tip the midfield battle in Hearts’ favour this time out.