Craig Paterson expects a compelling battle between Kilmarnock and Hibs as two managers “at the top of their game” go head-to-head at Rugby Park on Saturday.
Both sides are in red-hot form under Steve Clarke and Neil Lennon, with the Ayrshire team sixth in the Ladbrokes Premiership after losing only once in 12 games and Hibs closing in on the top three after winning four of their past five.
Paterson believes the vibrant state of his two former clubs is testament to the calibre of manager they have employed.
“It’s a measure of the difference you can make to a club if you get the right man in charge,” the pundit and ex-player told the Evening News.
“Neil Lennon’s been doing it for a season and a half at Hibs and Steve Clarke’s completely turned things around at Kilmarnock.
“When you think about where they’ve been, what they’ve done and the players they’ve worked with, they’re used to being at the top level, and they know what it takes to be there and to stay there. They seem to have infused their teams with that mental strength required to challenge at the top end of the table. The directors at Kilmarnock and Hibs can certainly have no complaints when they look at what the two managers have produced since they took over. They’re two really good managers right at the top of their game.”
Paterson believes Saturday’s televised showdown is too tight to call, although the 58-year-old senses that Hibs are now generating some genuine momentum.
“The last few weeks have been terrific for both teams,” he said. “Hibs are starting to pick up the victories their performances deserve. Earlier in the season, they were dominating all the stats but they weren’t turning their superiority into points. They’ve started to do that now and it’s a really good time to hit a rich vein of form.
“Their last two results against Aberdeen and Rangers have pulled them into the race for second place and because they’re out the Scottish Cup, that’s what will keep the pot boiling for the rest of the season so they’ll be desperate to hang in there for as long as they can.
“They’ve drawn at Celtic Park and won twice at Ibrox so they’re ready to take on anybody away from home. But Kilmarnock have beaten Celtic and Rangers at home so they’re also ready to take on anybody just now. There should be no shortage of confidence from both teams on Saturday. It will just come down to whose good players perform best on the day.
“I think Hibs probably have an edge middle to front, but Killie will be a tough nut to crack. It’s one to look forward to but a very difficult one to call. I’d imagine it would be decided by the odd goal but which way it will go is anybody’s guess.”