Hibs v Hearts preview: Key trio to return for Levein | Blow for Easter Road ace | Where to watch on TV

Sunday in Edinburgh brings with it a huge encounter for Hibs and Hearts. For all the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 3:43 pm
Hibs and Hearts face each other on Sunday at Easter Road. Picture: SNS

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The Capital duo are at a low ebb, the lowest since 2014 when both were relegated from the Scottish top flight.

That season Hearts had been hit with a 15-point deduction and forced to play a lot of youngsters, whereas Hibs, under Pat Fenlon and then Terry Butcher, fell into a slump which they could not get out of.

Hibs and Hearts face each other on Sunday at Easter Road. Picture: SNS

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It's in stark contract to this campaign, with both clubs possessing a set of players who should be doing a lot better than where they are in the league currently - the Easter Road side sit ninth with their rivals bottom of the pile.

The derby signals an important week with both sides in quarter-final action in the Betfred Cup and, as Stevie Mallan said after Hibs' 2-0 defeat at Kilmarnock, it is "do or die".

Craig Levein and Paul Heckingbottom are under pressure, the former more so with protests outside the Main Stand on Saturday following Hearts' 3-2 loss at home to Motherwell.

Both are in desperate need of three points to help try and alleviate pressure and act as a defibrillator to a season which is already in danger of being a very long and difficult one.

The eyes of the world may not be on Easter Road on Sunday, but certainly the eyes of Scottish football will be.

Will it be a classic between two out-of-form teams, or will the collective lack of quality which has been evident in the league so far take over and produce a turgid affair?

Hibs team news

Long-term absentees David Gray, Darren McGregor and Martin Boyle will miss the clash. Midfielder Vykintas Slivka has been ruled out for a number of weeks after breaking a bone in his ankle.

4-2-3-1 - Marciano; Naismith, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson; Hallberg, Vela; Horgan, Allan, Middleton; Kamberi. Subs from: Maxwell, Doidge, Newell, Shaw, Murray, Mallan, Jackson, Whittaker.

Hearts teams news

Craig Levein has been hit with another injury blow with the news Conor Washington is to miss three months. The Northern Ireland international came off the bench during the defeat to Motherwell but had to come back off after picking up a hamstring injury. A scan revealed it is a tear.

He joins an injury list which includes Steven Naismith, Peter Haring, Ben Garuccio, John Souttar, Joel Periera, Craig Wighton, Jamie Walker and Aidy White. Michael Smith made the bench at the weekend.

4-2-3-1 - Periera; Smith, Halkett, Berra, Hickey; Damour, Whelan; Meshino, Clare, Mulraney; Naismith. Subs from: Doyle, Dikamona, Brandon, White, Irving, Irving, MacLean, Ikpeazu.

Magic number

9 - The number of points the clubs have amassed in total since the start of last season's split. That's 19 games (they played each other in one - a draw).

Key battle

The visitors will feel that if they can neutralise the threat of Scott Allan they will be able to come away with a win. It could see Levein turn to the combative qualities of Loic Damour who shined as a sub against Motherwell in the last outing. He may be familiar with a yellow card but unlike Andy Irving and Glenn Whelan he can be a disruptive force, something which suits the frenetic nature of the derby. Stopping Allan can stop the supply line wide and to Florian Kamberi. If Hibs attacks are breaking down they have been susceptible to the counter. However, if Allan can get the better of Damour and thread balls in behind Christophe Berra the Easter Road side may just have the recipe for success.

“He (Levein) will know we’ll be trying everything to beat him, that’s the nature of the job. I have got to know a few of the managers since I’ve been up here and it’s just the same as down south, there has to be a respect there for each other and the job you are doing because it can be a tough job.

“I wouldn’t swap it for anything, I really enjoy it, but sometimes managers go through it. It can be a lonely place for him, his family, everything. That doesn’t mean you can go easy on him. We have to try to win the game, shake hands and then have a beer afterwards.

"Whoever starts the game in a positive manner I'm sure will have the supporters behind them. I looked at the recent matches and spoke earlier in the week about the situation of us giving teams goals without them having to do an awful lot to merit the goals.

"If we can stop that, purely giving away crazy goals, then the league table would look a lot different.

"So the focus for us is not to assist the opponents, to do everything we can to stop them from scoring and I think that will then put us in a position where we've got a chance of winning."

Referee

John Beaton has been confirmed as the man in the middle for Sunday's fixture.

How to watch

The match can be watched on Sky Sports Football. The build-up starts at 2.30pm with a 3pm kick-off. International subscribers to Hibernian and Hearts TV will be able to watch the game, while there is live audio for subscribers in the UK.

The match has yet to sell out but both teams are down to their remaining tickets.

The Evening News will be running a live blog from Easter Road with all the latest updates, action and reaction.

Odds

Hibs 29/20 Draw 9/4 Hearts 15/8