Hibs v Hearts preview: Team news, who replaces Haring, duo back for Hibs
Hibs host their Capital rivals Hearts on Sunday looking to move six points clear of the Scottish Cup finalists while advancing their own European prospects.
There was a time earlier this season when Hearts looked, if not genuine title-contenders, at least capable of finishing in the upper echelons of the league. A combination of injuries and a poor run of results has seen them slip down the table but Hibs’ resurgence under Paul Heckingbottom and Robbie Stockdale has seen the Hibees lose just once in ten games (a 2-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final defeat to Celtic) and climb the table.
Hecky’s at the wheel, as the Hibs fans like to sing, but Hearts would be very keen on halting that particular juggernaut as they look to a) raise morale ahead of the Scottish Cup final b) beat their rivals and record two league wins at Easter Road for the first time since the 1996/97 campaign and c) boost their own European hopes.
It promises to be an intense battle from start to finish - Hearts may have been limp against Rangers but as has been said before, Edinburgh derbies are different beasts entirely.
Thomas Agyepong and Ryan Gauld are back in contention with the pair named among the subs against Celtic, albeit only the on-loan Manchester City winger was introduced in the second half.
Jonathan Spector provides an option at the back, and replaced David Gray for the final 15 minutes during the last derby.
Hibs have, in recent weeks, gone from having a skeleton squad to having at least 12 players to choose from for the subs bench alone. The strength in depth could be crucial as Hibs aim to finish as high up the table as possible - with European qualification still on the cards if results go their way.
The arrival of Marc McNulty has given Hibs a focal point up front, while Florian Kamberi’s versatility has seen the big Swiss striker operating wide left in recent matches. He was kept relatively quiet in the last derby and against Celtic, but did net a derby goal from the penalty spot this time last year. Paul Heckingbottom will once again be looking for a big performance from his back five, while hoping the midfield three and attacking trio can cause Hearts problems.
The Jambos have a Scottish Cup final to look forward to but in the meantime will be looking to lessen the gap between themselves and rivals Hibs. The absence of Peter Haring and Steven Naismith has forced Craig Levein into a rething and the Hearts boss will shuffle his pack, with self-styled “Jambo Soldier” Clevid Dikamona a possibility to fill in for the big Austrian in the holding role.
Oliver Bozanic is likely to make way for Sean Clare, who sat out the 3-1 loss to Rangers last weekend through illness, while Craig Wighton is likely to make way for Dikamona.
Harry Cochrane impressed during his substitute appearance against Rangers, and the teenager could see more gametime against Hibs, with Levein mulling over a cup final spot for the youngster.
Despite having six players sidelined through injury, Hearts do have options on the bench in all areas of the field - Aaron Hughes and Conor Shaughnessy can provide cover at the back, Jamie Brandon and Marcus Godinho can cover full-back and wing-back roles while the likes of Cochrane, Bozanic and Ryan Edwards allow for midfield cover.
Veteran striker Steven MacLean netted against Rangers last week after also coming on as a sub - could the former St Johnstone man repeat the feat against Hibs? He could be joined by fellow forwards David Vanecek and Wighton on the bench.
Players to watch
For the home side, Stephane Omeonga’s tireless running, Daryl Horgan’s attacking threat and Marc McNulty’s instinct could cause Hearts problems, while the Jambos will hope Uche Ikpeazu, Sean Clare and Jake Mulraney can make the difference.
Injuries / suspensions / unavailable
Hibs: Martin Boyle (knee), Ryan Porteous (knee).
Hearts: Ben Garuccio (knee), Peter Haring (groin), Aidan Keena (knee), Demi Mitchell (knee), Callumn Morrison (knee), Steven Naismith (knee).
Hibs (4-1-2-2-1): Marciano, Gray, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson; Milligan; Mallan, Omeonga; Horgan, Kamberi; McNulty. Subs from: Bogdan, Spector, Mackie, Johnson, Gauld, Bigirimana, Slivka, Bartley, F Murray, Agyepong, Shaw, Allan.
Hearts (4-1-4-1): Zlamal; M Smith, Souttar, Berra, Burns; Dikamona; Clare, Lee, Djoum, Mulraney; Ikpeazu. Subs from: Doyle, Brandon, Godinho, Hughes, Shaughnessy, Bozanic, Cochrane, Hickey, Irving, Edwarsd, MacLean, Wighton, Vanecek.
Magic number - 22
Hearts haven’t won two league derbies at Easter Road for 22 years - recording 3-1 and 4-0 victories in Leith in September 1996 and January 1997.
Bobby Burns will need to keep Daryl Horgan in check this time out - the Irish cap didn’t give the Northern Irish youngster a moment’s rest at Tynecastle and scored twice as Hibs came from behind to win 2-1. The Darren McGregor/Uche Ikpeazu battle could play a big role in how the game pans out while Christophe Berra will again come up against Marc McNulty.
Hibs have scored ten more goals than Hearts and have conceded ten fewer goals than their rivals. Olly Lee has had the most shots on goal for Hearts with 39, while Stevie Mallan leads the list for Hibs with 69 (although only 28 have been on target). Uche Ikpeazu has won the most fouls for Hearts - 51 - while Florian Kamberi (38) is Hibs’ most-fouled player. Hearts are missing their two leading goalscorers in Steven Naismith (14 in all competitions) and Peter Haring (seven), while Hibs’ leading marksmen - Kamberi and Mallan with 13 apiece - should both start for the home side.
Craig Thomson is the man in the middle for this match and will be assisted by Frank Connor and Daniel McFarlane. Gavin Duncan is on fourth-official duties.