Hibs v Hearts preview: Up to 18 players out | Bartley in contention | race against time for Hearts pair

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The second Edinburgh derby of the season will take place on Saturday evening and it’s far from an ideal time for either side.

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The game ended in a 0-0 draw the last time these two sides met in October. Picture: SNS

The game ended in a 0-0 draw the last time these two sides met in October. Picture: SNS

Not only are both teams in poor form by the standards they set earlier in the season, they’ll also be without several first-team stars with up to 18 players missing the match.

Still, the opportunity remains to earn bragging rights going into the three-week winter break, while it’s also a significant clash in the head-to-head battle in terms of league position.

Hearts are four points in front of their rivals and therefore will remain ahead of them regardless of result, but it would be quite the lift for Hibs if they were able to cut it to just one point before the new year with reinforcements expected to arrive in January.

On the other hand, victory for Craig Levein’s men would see them push seven clear of Neil Lennon’s side, and by the next time they meet key figures Uche Ikpeazu and John Souttar will be back from long-term injury.

The last Hearts victory at Easter Road came in the club’s relegation season as a Callum Paterson double won all three points for Gary Locke’s visitors against Terry Butcher’s Hibs. Since then the home side are unbeaten in six and have won five on the trot.

Injuries / suspensions / unavailable

Hibs - The home side could be without 10 players for this clash. Lewis Stevenson limped out of the action during the draw at Ibrox and he joins Ofir Marciano (calf), Ross Laidlaw (thigh), Ryan Porteous (knee), Thomas Agyepong (hamstring) and Miquel Nelom (thigh) on the treatment table. Marvin Bartley is back in training after a hamstring problem but the game may come too soon for him. Meanwhile, Mark Milligan, Martin Boyle and Jamie Maclaren are all unavailable after jetting off to the UAE to join Australia’s Asian Cup squad. Greek right-back Harry Mavrias will play no part having been released by the club on Friday.

Hearts - Arnaud Djoum and Peter Haring are in a race against time to be fit for Saturday’s match. Both limped out of the second half of Boxing Day’s win over Hamilton Accies; Djoum with a thigh problem and Haring with tightness in his groin. Should they fail to make it they’ll join long-term absentees John Souttar (hip), Clevid Dikamona (thigh), Uche Ikpeazu (foot) and Jimmy Dunne (ankle) on the sidelines. Craig Wighton and Harry Cochrane are still doubts with ankle knocks.

Magic number

14 - The current number of Edinburgh derbies without victory for the away side. It’s the longest ever run in the history of the fixture.

Key battle

With both teams in poor form over the past couple of months and the absence of several important players on either side, very few spectators will be expecting expansive, free-flowing attacking football. In all likelihood, this game will be decided by a set-piece opportunity. Hibs midfielder Stevie Mallan is noted for his prowess from such situations, but Olly Lee is an underrated threat in this regard. The two will also come face-to-face in the centre of the park.

Key stats

The two clubs have combined for four victories from their last 25 games (Hibs are two from 12; Hearts two from 11). However, the hosts are currently, and quietly, on a six-match unbeaten run coming into this fixture. Hearts have conceded 20 goals away from home in the league this season - the worst mark outside the bottom four. Hibs have scored 20 goals at Easter Road this season - the best tally outside Aberdeen and the Old Firm.

Referee

Hearts have encountered Kevin Clancy twice in the Scottish Premiership so far this season, defeating St Mirren 4-1 and Aberdeen 2-1 and receiving penalties from the official in both those encounters. Hibs, meanwhile, have only had one of their games officiated by Clancy and that was in the Betfred Cup as they came back from being a goal down twice to defeat Ross County.

Possible teams

Hibs (3-5-2): Bogdan; Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon; Gray, Slivka, Mallan, Hyndman, Mackie; Kamberi, Shaw. Subs from: Dabrowski, Gullan, Horgan, Striling, Campbell, Whittaker

Hearts (4-4-2): Doyle; Godinho, Smith, Berra, Garuccio; Morrison, Lee, Haring, Bozanic; Naismith, MacLean. Subs from: Zlamal, Hughes, Mitchell, Clare, Amankwaa, Mulraney, Djoum, Cochrane, Wighton, McDonald.