Defence, midfield, and Jamie Murphy: The tactical questions facing Hibs boss Jack Ross ahead of Scottish Cup final
Ahead of the 2016 Scottish Cup final, Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs had some decisions to make.
Striker James Keatings had been in fine form in the play-offs and towards the end of the season, while in midfield there were arguably five players battling for three positions and January arrival Niklas Gunnarsson had impressed during his loan stint at both right-back and centre-back.
Jack Ross has his conundrums too ahead of Saturday – but they might not be as obvious as the ones facing Stubbs.
Three or four at the back?
Do Hibs match St Johnstone or do something different? The Saints have had the Easter Road side’s number this season with Hibs’ only win coming via a late penalty in the first meeting of the season and Ross will have a good idea of how the McDiarmid Park side will set up.
We know how much the Hibs boss likes a team that can alter its shape without changing personnel, so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see him set up with a flexible team.
Porteous v McGregor
Whether Hibs play three or four at the back at Hampden, the biggest question over the defence is whether Darren McGregor or Ryan Porteous gets the nod. Hibs have kept clean sheets in McGregor's last three appearances, albeit the final shut-out was with Porteous alongside him in the goalless draw with Celtic.
McGregor is keen for Porteous to start and that's probably what Ross and his coaching staff are planning. Might McGregor’s recent performances have thrown him into contention for a starting berth? Or is he best kept in reserve – “in case of emergency, play Daz", if you like.
There isn't much to choose between the two, and there may even be an outside chance that both play but in starting Porteous and keeping McGregor on the bench, Ross can call on the veteran if needs be, and that’s not the worst position to be in.
Hallberg or Newell… or both?
This wouldn’t have been a debate a few weeks back as Newell was putting in performance after performance in the middle of the park. But when injuries and suspension handed Melker Hallberg a chance in the middle, he took it with both hands. He was one of the top performers in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United in place of the suspended Alex Gogic, but the Cypriot internationalist has become such a key player in midfield that it’s hard to imagine him not starting on Saturday.
Both Hallberg and Newell have their strengths but the Swede might shade it from the start thanks to his attacking intent and use of the ball. Getting the first goal will be vital for Hibs but Newell could still have an important role to play off the bench – or alongside Hallberg if Ross opts to keep Gogic in reserve.
Does Murphy start?
Murphy’s return to full fitness is a huge boost for Ross and Hibs, as it gives the side something extra in attack. He featured off the bench in the Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Dundee United and at Aberdeen before starting against Celtic.
He is likely to start on the bench for the simple reason that Hibs need an ace card; someone they can bring on who is capable of changing a game – or keeping the team on top.
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