How could Hibs line up against Hamilton if Scott Allan is ruled out?
Hibs face the prospect of travelling to face Hamilton Accies this weekend without the services of Scott Allan, who is struggling with an ankle ligament injury. But how could Paul Heckingbottom shuffle his pack if the mercurial playmaker doesn't make it? Patrick McPartlin assesses the options ...
Assuming there are no surprises from head coach Paul Heckingbottom for the trip to face Hamilton Accies at the Fountain of Youth Stadium, Chris Maxwell will continue in goal with a four-man defence of Tom James, Ryan Porteous, Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson.
While there are uncertainties over his attacking options (more on that later), it's the midfield that poses the biggest question for Heckingbottom as he tries to guide his team to three much-needed points.
If Allan does miss out, Heckingbottom will have to rethink his selection - and with Vykintas Slivka still sidelined through injury, his options are further limited.
Return of Newell
After playing the full 90 minutes in the opening-day win over St Mirren, Joe Newell lasted just 45 minutes against Rangers the following week before being benched for the 2-2 draw with St Johnstone and 3-0 defeat at Motherwell. He got 15 minutes in the league defeat at Kilmarnock before a 36-minute period in the Betfred Cup quarter-final, and featured off the bench against Celtic and Aberdeen.
While fans would argue that Fraser Murray deserves a chance (more on that later), Heckingbottom could slot Newell into the No.10 role in Allan's absence, with Glenn Middleton or Stevie Mallan and Daryl Horgan on either side in a 4-2-3-1 set-up and Christian Doidge up front.
Newell has looked more comfortable when handed a central role in which he has license to roam, rather than being tasked with patrolling the left flank. Starting Newell might not be the obvious option, but it's not totally out of the question.
Having fought his way back from a frustrating and lengthy spell on the sidelines last season, Fraser Murray was singled out by Heckingbottom in May for high praise.
“Fraser has lots of energy and desire to get better and that’s really important, that’s what we are looking for. He’s part of my squad for next season, we have bumped him up and we will be recruiting around him, not blocking his path," the head coach said.
“He has got lots of good attributes. He has a hell of a lot to learn, but maybe one of his best attributes is how much he is willing to learn. He’s driven, disciplined and has good quality. He’s in our squad next year, we’ve cleared a space for him."
In 269 minutes of football in the Scottish Premiership, Betfred Cup and Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup, Murray has scored one and assisted three. His delivery from set-pieces, particularly corners, is impressive and his performances for the development squad have suggested he is more than ready for regular first-team action.
Able to play wide left or behind the striker, Murray is perhaps a wildcard option for Heckingbottom. The 20-year-old has played just 45 minutes of Premiership football - the second half against Rangers in the 6-1 defeat at Ibrox - but the time might be right to give him more minutes.
However Heckingbottom shuffles his personnel or formation, there's a good chance Stevie Mallan will feature. The former St Mirren youngster has been an ever-present in the league this season, and has mostly played in central midfield.
However, against Aberdeen at Pittodrie, and Celtic at Easter Road, the 23-year-old was deployed wide-right in an attacking trio. In the Betfred Cup quarter-final at Kilmarnock, he was handed No.10 duties in Allan's absence.
Assuming Mallan maintains his spot in the starting line-up, he could again operate as the ten with Middleton and Horgan on the right and left respectively. The added bonus is that the trio have already played together at Rugby Park.
Two up front
I'ts very unlikely, but not completely beyond the realms of possibility, that Heckingbottom may go for a more offensive strike-force and start Christian Doidge and Florian Kamberi. The former missed a glut of chances against Aberdeen, but dropping him carries the risk of harming his confidence even further.
Pairing him with Kamberi would some of the heat off the former Forest Green Rovers frontman and, in a game when Hibs need a win, could increase the number of chances in front of goal.
Opting for two up front would probably see a midfield of Mallan on the right, Josh Vela and Melker Hallberg in the middle and Horgan out left.
Heckingbottom is unlikely to return to the diamond formation he utilised the last time Hibs faced Hamilton - the Yorkshireman's first game in charge. In that match, Mark Milligan anchored the midfield, Horgan and Slivka lined up in the middle and Mallan was played at the tip. Hibs do have the players to replicate that - Hallberg for Milligan and Vela for Slivka would be the obvious switches - but he has used it just twice, the last instance coming in the 1-1 draw with Rangers in March.