Five talking points ahead of Hibs v Hearts

John McGinn shields the ball from Jamie Walker during the last meeting between the two sides. Picture: Ian Georgeson
John McGinn shields the ball from Jamie Walker during the last meeting between the two sides. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The first Edinburgh derby of the season is upon us, with Hibs coming into the game off the back of a Betfred Cup semi final defeat to Celtic while Hearts tasted victory in their league match against St Johnstone.

It promises to be a full-blooded Scottish Premiership meeting, with Hibs unbeaten in seven derbies but Hearts looking much improved under Craig Levein.

Here are five talking points ahead of the game...

Who starts in goal for Hibs?

Perhaps the biggest selection dilemma for Neil Lennon ahead of Tuesday night’s game is who starts in goal for Hibs.

Ross Laidlaw started on Saturday but didn’t cover himself in glory at Celtic’s second goal - a fact he admitted himself - and while the finger could be pointed at Brandon Barker for losing Mikael Lustig in the lead-up to the opener, Laidlaw perhaps could have done better with the Swede’s sclaffed effort.

However, despite spilling a cross in the second half Laidlaw did make a couple of smart saves to keep Hibs in the game, denying James Forrest and Moussa Dembele.

Ofir Marciano came in for some criticism after the 2-2 draw with Motherwell, but the Israeli ‘keeper has performed well against Hearts in previous outings, and Lennon could feel the time is right for Marciano to return.

Lennon said prior to the semi final that he had been pleased with Laidlaw, and warned Marciano that he faced a fight to win back the starting spot. But Lennon may feel he can’t risk further errors in another big game.

Craig Levein’s midfield options

Hearts have avoided a full-blown crisis in midfield but are without Arnaud Djoum, who has a knee injury, while Don Cowie is likely to miss the derby with a calf complaint. Malaury Martin is also struggling with a knock.

Prince Buaben lasted just 45 minutes against St Johnstone before being replaced by Cochrane, and could be lucky to start at Easter Road, while Craig Levein has Connor Randall available again after suspension, and could use the on-loan Liverpool man in midfield on the right or in the middle alongside Ross Callachan.

Despite the pair impressing in recent weeks, Levein may be reluctant to pitch 16-year-old Harry Cochrane or 17-year-old Euan Henderson into such a heated match.

Manuel Milinkovic, who started against St Johnstone, or Krystian Nowak could also be in contention to start against Hibs but one thing is clear - Levein has some tough decisions to make, especially considering that his midfield picks will be up against the likes of John McGinn, Marvin Bartley, Dylan McGeouch and Vykintas Slivka; two international players,

Lennon’s options up front

If Anthony Stokes misses out through injury, Lennon has limited options up front - and could be forced to deviate from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Simon Murray could be brought back in to the starting line-up but hasn’t found the net since mid-August, while Lithuanian striker Deivydas Matulevicius has found first team options limited. Teenager Oli Shaw scored within two minutes of coming on against Celtic at the weekend and despite scoring for fun in the development league, could be used again as a substitute rather than a starter. Martin Boyle made an impact coming off the bench at Hampden and could be reinstated to the starting XI.

If Lennon chooses to go with two up front and Stokes makes it, Murray is likely to partner the former Celtic striker up front. If Stokes misses out, Lennon may choose to play Boyle with Murray - the pair started in the 6-0 Betfred Cup group win over Arbroath.

Lennon’s selection hinges on whether or not Stokes is fit - because if he is fit, he will start regardless.

Hearts are a different beast this season

Hearts are likely to have four players at the most in their matchday squad from the 3-1 loss to Hibs in February of this year. Esmael Goncalves and Jamie Walker are likely to start tomorrow night, as they did in February, while Rory Currie was a half time replacement for Malaury Martin and Krystian Nowak an unused substitute.

Most of the starting line-up - Andraz Struna, Lennard Sowah, Tasos Avlonitis, Alexandros Tziolis, Perry Kitchen - have moved on while Craig Levein has lost just one game since taking the reins in late August.

The addition of players such as Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty, boyhood Hearts fan Ross Callachan and the return of former captain Christophe Berra has galvanised a Hearts team that looked to be in freefall under Ian Cathro last season.

Former Hearts players such as Ian Black suggested that the team in the last derby didn’t ‘get’ the magnitude of the game, leading to a largely comprehensive victory for Hibs. With Levein having lost just six derbies as a player and manager, the Hearts boss knows the importance of the fixture and he knows how to win. We’re in for an intriguing battle between Lennon and Levein.

The referee

Andrew Dallas is taking charge of his first derby match, but is no stranger to Hearts fans having booked Malaury Martin last season for fouling Louis Moult, despite the Motherwell forward tripping over his own team-mate’s foot.

He also made headlines earlier this month after Dundee boss Neil McCann criticised the official for not awarding the Dark Blues a penalty in their 1-0 loss at Parkhead.

Dallas has taken charge of six matches this season, flashed 19 yellow cards and one red, working out at an average of 3.4 cards per game (3.2 yellow and 0.2 red).

He’s also given three penalties in the Scottish Premiership matches he’s taken charge of, including two in one game (Hamilton 1-4 Rangers).

Still just 34, Dallas has refereed Europa League matches, World Cup qualifiers and UEFA Youth League games but this is his biggest test on the domestic front. Derbies are often niggly affairs with meaty challenges not unusual as the two teams try to assert themselves in the early stages, and he could find himself at the centre of a highly-charged affair - but it’s a perfect chance for Dallas to illustrate his ability to take charge of high-profile games.