Celtic v Hibs preview: Key players in fitness race, 3-5-1-1, Mavrias in the squad?

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Hibs travel to Glasgow tomorrow hoping to secure a fith consecutive league victory that could send them top of the table depending on the outcome of Hearts’ home match with Aberdeen.

Neil Lennon’s men have won their last two games on the road, and recorded a win, two draws and one (narrow) defeat in their matches with the Hoops last season.

Vykintas Slivka scored the winner the last time the two sides met. Picture: SNS Group

Vykintas Slivka scored the winner the last time the two sides met. Picture: SNS Group

Despite hopes that Paul Hanlon would be fit enough to make the trip to Glasgow, the long-serving defender will miss out, along with club captain David Gray and Thomas Agyepong.

The absence of the two defenders will force Lennon into a reshuffle at the back, with Darren McGregor potentially coming back into the starting line-up.

Mark Milligan plays in defence for Australia but his presence in midfield will likely be crucial.

Martin Boyle, Daryl Horgan, Jamie Maclaren and Steven Whittaker will all be assessed on Saturday morning but the Easter Road coaching staff are hopeful that most of them will be fit.

New signing Charalampos Mavrias is short of match fitness but could be added to the squad as a last resort.

Lennon may be prevented from playing his favoured 4-2-3-1 depending on the available personnel.

A 3-5-1-1 formation may be the way forward, with Adam Bogdan in goal; a back three of Efe Ambrose, McGregor and Ryan Porteous; a midfield five of Martin Boyle, Stevie Mallan, Mark Milligan, Vykintas Sliva and Lewis Stevenson, with Emerson Hyndman sitting just behind Florian Kamberi.

If the wingers are fit, a 4-2-3-1 becomes doable, with a back four of Ambrose, McGregor, Porteous and Stevenson; Slivka and Milligan in the holding roles and an attacking midfield trio of Boyle, Mallan and Horgan behind Kamberi.

Celtic are without Kristoffer Ajer, Nir Bitton and Mikey Johnston but influential captain and former Hibee Scott Brown could make a return to the engine room.

Another ex-Hibee, Leigh Griffiths, scored the only goal of the game during the last meeting at Celtic Park but the 28-year-old is understood to have missed training on Friday through ilness, and is a doubt for tomorrow’s match.

Filip Benkovic is set to make his return to the starting XI after coming through international duty with Croatia Under-21s unscathed, while Jozo Simunovic is also knocking on the door.

Injuries / suspensions / unavailable

Celtic - Kristoffer Ajer is unavailable after suffering a hamstring injury in Celtic’s 1-0 Betfred Cup win over St Johnstone, while Mikey Johnston is also out with a hamstring complaint. Nir Bitton (knee) is also sidelined.

Hibs - David Gray and Paul Hanlon have both been ruled out, while Thomas Agyepong, Martin Boyle, Daryl Horgan and Jamie Maclaren will be given every chance to prove their fitness.

Magic number

9 - Hibs have gone nine matches without a victory at Parkhead. The last win in G40 came in 2010; Danny Galbraith netting an injury time winner to hand John Hughes’ side a 2-1 win. Anthony Stokes got the other goal.

Key battle

Mark Milligan going toe-to-toe with Scott Brown could make for a fascinating match-up. Both players are crucial in the way their respective teams play and their battle could be a robust subplot in the game.

Key stats

Celtic haven’t conceded more than one goal in a home league fixture since September 30 last year - when a John McGinn brace had Hibs in the driving seat until Callum McGregor’s late equaliser. Hibs, who recorded back-to-back wins on the road against Dundee and St Mirren, haven’t won three away games on the trot in the top flight since late October / early November 2005 (a 1-0 win against Aberdeen at Pittodrie, and 2-1 victories over Dunfermline and Livingston).

Referee

Don Robertson takes charge of Hibs again, having been the man in the middle for the 6-0 win over Hamilton. The Easter Road side have only lost once in the 14 games he’s taken charge of - a 2-1 defeat to Dumbarton on the opening day of the 2015/16 season - winning 11 and drawing 2. This is his first game involving Hibs and Celtic; the Hoops have won six and drawn three of the nine matches he’s refereed involving them.

Possible teams

Celtic (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Lustig, Benkovic, Boyata, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham; Forrest, McGregor, Sinclair; Edouard. Subs from: Bain, Simunovic, Hendry, Gamboa, Kouassi, Christie, Morgan, Mulumbu, Arzani, Rogic, Griffiths.

Hibs (3-5-1-1): Bogdan; Ambrose, McGregor, Porteous; Boyle, Mallan, Milligan, Slivka, Stevenson; Hyndman; Kamberi. Subs from: Marciano, Whittaker, Nelom, Mavrias, Bartley, F Murray, Horgan, Shaw, Gullan, Maclaren, Allan.

Kick-off: 3pm