Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom faces decisions over starting XI against Livingston
Paul Heckingbottom is poised to stick with the players who have taken 13 points out of a possible 15 when Hibs face Livingston on Friday – but the head coach has decisions to make before selecting his starting XI.
Heckingbottom will have Darren McGregor back from suspension while on-loan Sporting Lisbon midfielder Ryan Gauld – out for seven matches with a hamstring injury – and American defender Jonathan Spector, his first signing, staked their claims to be included in the squad by playing in a 5-0 win over Ross County in the SPFL Reserve League on Monday.
However, Heckingbottom has relied on virtually the same starting XI in all five of the Premiership matches he’s been in charge for, the only changes made having been enforced on him by suspension.
Vykintas Slivka missed the draw against Rangers after being sent off during the win over St Johnstone, only for the Lithuanian midfielder to be immediately reinstated for the last game before the international break, a 2-0 victory against Motherwell which took Hibs to just two points behind city rivals Hearts in fifth place.
McGregor’s absence for the visit of the Steelmen saw Mark Milligan partner Paul Hanlon in central defence, with Belgian Under-21 midfielder Stephane Omeonga on from the start – as he was against Rangers – in a new-look 4-5-1 formation with striker Florian Kamberi operating wide on the left.
With skipper David Gray expected to be fit having turned an ankle after scoring the second goal against Motherwell, the main decision for Heckingbottom would appear to be over McGregor and Milligan. The Yorkshireman must decide if McGregor comes back in for the trip to the Tony Macaroni Arena and, if he does, will Milligan return to his more familiar berth in the middle of the park.
If so, then another decision arises, does Omeonga, who has performed impressively, continue at the expense of one of his ever-presents as Hibs look to all but clinch a top six finish.
Spector acknowledged it would be a big call for Heckingbottom. who has stressed the need for continuity as he seeks to instil his ways on the side, to make changes.
“I am here and I am hoping to help the team in anyway that I can,” said the 36-times capped defender. “I wouldn’t expect to go in and start automatically. The team have been doing pretty well and have been on a great run.”