Hibs travel to Tynecastle on Saturday as they aim to defeat Hearts in Gorgie for the first time since May 2013. Joel Sked looks at how they could do it.
Force Hearts wide
One of the areas Craig Levein will be looking to strengthen in the summer is in wide areas. That is because the team only have two players offering width high up the pitch and both of those, Jake Mulraney and Callumn Morrison, are young and inconsistent. The team are also missing the crossing of Ben Garuccio and Demetri Mitchell.
Hibs will be able to get joy if they funnel Hearts into wide areas where the Gorgie side won’t pose as much of a threat.
Despite the aerial ability of the likes of Peter Haring and Uche Ikpeazu, Hibs should be confident defending against any bombardment.
There will be no great surprise for Paul Heckingbottom in his first Edinburgh derby, in terms of game plan. Hearts will look to hit Uche Ikpeazu and play off him.
The Englishman, despite being a totemic figure for the Tynecastle side, is guilty of being selfish. He has a relentless urge to get the ball, surge past opponents and score. At times, it’s as if he’s trying to prove he is too strong for opponents, but mainly it is a case of the player having such a strong desire to find the back of the net.
It means Hearts attacks can be bogged down in the final third. Even more so if the opposition get bodies around the striker to stop him turning. Hibs won’t need as many ‘bodies’ with the considerable force of Darren McGregor but he will require support.
McNulty v Berra
The miss for Scotland against San Marino aside, Marc McNulty has been in imperious form. Even if he hasn’t netted in his last two outings he still put in a fine performance in the win over Livingston.
As well as being a goal scorer, he is a very shrewd link man, a quality this writer did not expect of him when he arrived at Easter Road. His vision, positional sense and through balls are excellent.
While the striker is in form, Hearts captain Christophe Berra is still finding his from last season, although there have been improvements.
If McNulty can play one-v-one against the defender he has the quality to succeed and help build towards a Hibs win. Dragging Berra up the pitch into areas he is not as comfortable defending would be smart.
Michael Smith may be returning for Hearts on the right but they still have problems on the left. Despite a positive performance from Jake Mulraney against Aberdeen last weekend he didn’t feature against Rangers.
This could be the game for Daryl Horgan to shine out wide. Jamie Brandon has proven to be rash in the position while Mulraney is still adjusting to the defensive side.
The Irishman has been somewhat inconsistent but he has the attributes to lead whoever is on the left for Hearts a merry dance. He has the pace, the skill and quality to become the match-winner.
Paul Heckingbottom has been incredibly consistent with his starting XI, using just 12 players across eight lineups.
It therefore means players coming off the bench have to impress, and they did just that against Livingston last Friday with Fraser Murray having a positive impact.
It is highly likely the derby will be a nitty-gritty affair where it is tight going into the last quarter and space starting to present itself. These are the moments where someone stepping off the bench can become the game changer.
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