Hibs v Ross County: Match preview, possible teams, key battle

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Hibs welcome Ross County to Easter Road on Sunday as they aim to put their Europa League disappointment behind them.

A 3-0 win for Molde on the night after a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Easter Road meant the Norwegians progressed to the play-off round where they will face Zenit St Petersburg.

Steven Whittaker with an acrobatic attempt on goal during a previous meeting between the two clubs. Picture: SNS Group

Steven Whittaker with an acrobatic attempt on goal during a previous meeting between the two clubs. Picture: SNS Group

Hibs will definitely be without Marvin Bartley after the midfield enforcer’s night was cut short through injury. The 32-year-old could face up to eight weeks on the sidelines according to manager Neil Lennon.

Bartley’s absence could force Lennon to shuffle his pack, with Steven Whittaker or Emerson Hyndman possible starters.

David Gray could also return - the Hibs captain was named among the subs in Norway, and came on with minutes remaining, after flying out late following the birth of his third child.

Another player eyeing a starting berth is Daryl Horgan. The former Dundalk and Preston winger was ineligible for the European tie but came on as a substitute against St Johnstone last week and stands a good chance of starting if Lennon wants to rotate his squad. Darren McGregor and Ofir Marciano remain sidelined, while Thomas Agyepong is still waiting on a visa.

Ross County are without former Easter Road fans’ favourite and occasional guitar-strummer Liam Fontaine as he works his way back from injury, but another ex-Hibee duo in Brian Graham and Keith Watson could feature on Sunday.

County have had a decent start to the 2018/19 campaign, losing just once in the Betfred Cup away to Arbroath.

It’s two wins out of two for the Dingwall side on league duty, having defeated Alloa 1-0 at home and then left East End Park with a 3-1 victory over Dunfermline the following week.

Last Tuesday, the Staggies defeated Hearts Colts 2-1 at Tynecastle in the Irn-Bru Cup courtesy of a Billy Mckay double in the first half.

Magic number

Three - the number of times Hibs have faced the Staggies in the League Cup; the number of Hibs players still at the club who played in the first meeting - David Gray, Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson - and the number of ex-Hibees on County’s books - Liam Fontaine, Brian Graham and Keith Watson.

Key battle

Whether it’s David Gray or Martin Boyle on the right flank, Sean Kelly will have his work cut out in keeping them quiet.

Referee

Kevin Clancy is the man in the middle, and takes charge of his first Hibs game since the tempestuous encounter at Rugby Park last season in which he sent Neil Lennon to the stand, prompting a furious tirade from the Northern Irishman.

Possible teams

Hibs: Bogdan; Ambrose, Porteous, Hanlon; Whittaker; Gray, Slivka, Mallan, Stevenson; Boyle, Kamberi. Subs from: Laidlaw, Mackie, Hyndman, Horgan, Swanson, S Martin, Stirling, F Murray, Shaw, Maclaren.

Ross County: Fox; Fraser, Watson, Morris, Kelly; Vigurs, Cowie; Mullin, Draper, Gardyne; McManus. Subs from: Munro, Demetriou, Dow, Graham, Keillor-Dunn, Paton, Mckay, Stewart.

Kick-off: 3.00pm