Kilmarnock v Hibs preview: Debuts for Jason Naismith and Melker Hallberg? New formation? How to watch

Hibs lost both league games at Rugby Park last season. Picture: SNS
Hibs lost both league games at Rugby Park last season. Picture: SNS
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Hibs begin a hazardous but important run of fixtures with a trip to face Kilmarnock.

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It is the first of two visits to Rugby Park in less than two weeks with Paul Heckingbottom's side returning to Ayrshire later this month for a Betfred Cup quarter-final.

Either side of that cup clash, Hibs welcome Hearts and Celtic to Easter Road.

Just like their Edinburgh rivals, a positive showing and result on Saturday is key heading into the derby, following a string of poor displays, the latest, a 3-0 defeat at Motherwell, saw Heckingbottom come under severe criticism.

Only St Johnstone have conceded more goals than Hibs this term in the league, but they will be facing a Killie side struggling in attack having netted just twice in four games in the Ladbrokes Premiership.

Heckingbottom could change system with Anthony Brown suggesting possible 4-4-2 diamond and 3-5-2 variations. The Englishman has flitted between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 (or a variation).

The defensive worry has been eased slightly by the signing of Jason Naimsith who could make his debut for the club.

Kilmarnock were busy on transfer deadline day bringing in three players with a further two added since. It could mean debuts for Stephen Hendrie, Connor Johnson, Harvey St Clair and ex-Hearts forward Osman Sow.

Team news

Martin Boyle and David Gray will definitely miss the trip to Rugby Park. The came could come too soon for Darren McGregor (abdominal) and Tom James (ankle). The latter featured in a friendly with Rangers and could make the Edinburgh derby a week on Sunday.

Meanwhile there was good news for Ryan Porteous after he played 90 minutes for Scotland in their 2-1 win over Croatia during the week.

Jason Naismith is in line to make his debut after joining on loan from Peterborough United.

READ MORE: Hibs star Ryan Porteous comes through 90 minutes in Scotland Under-21 victory

Possible Hibs line up

Marciano; Naismith, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson; Hallberg, Vela; Horgan, Allan, Middleton; Kamberi. Subs from: Maxwell, Slivka, Doidge, Newell, Shaw, Murray, Mackie, Mallan, Jackson, Whittaker

Magic number

8 - Prior to last season, Hibs were on an eight-game unbeaten record at Rugby Park against Kilmarnock.

Key battle

If Jason Naismith is pitched in at Rugby Park for his first Hibs appearance he will likely face on-loan Liverpool attacker Liam Milar. The Canadian international is a source of productivity down the left for Angelo Alessio's side. Killie have struggled in front of goal as well as simply creating chances, with Millar their key attacking outlet when linking the rest of the team with Eamonn Brophy. Naismith is a powerful individual. If he can make Millar go the other way it should cut the supply line off to attack and give Hibs a much better chance of keeping a clean sheet and getting three points.

What the manager said

"It's important to understand why we got beaten," said Paul Heckingbottom.

"So with the Motherwell one, it's no good just passing the ball and looking pretty with the ball but in real key moments not standing up, and being poor.

"The goals we conceded were really poor on our part. You can't ignore that and that is the bit we'll be working on to put right over the coming weeks.

"Because unless we put that right, we will be a team that's playing well one week and poor the next. Or results will be like that, regardless of performance.

Referee

The last time Kevin Clancy refereed Hibs at Rugby Park was back in February 2018. It was quite the encounter with Hibs racing into a two-goal lead in the opening ten minutes before Killie pulled it back to 2-2 in the second half. The second goal was from the penalty spot after Ryan Porteous was penalised for handball. Clancy's officiating irritated then Hibs boss Neil Lennon who was sent to the stands for protesting angrily. Afterwards he called the official's performance "amateur". Clancy oversaw Hibs' 2-0 win over Alloa in the Betfred Cup this season.

How to watch

The game is not available to watch in the UK and Ireland but Hibs TV are providing live coverage of the match to overseas subscribers with the Kilmarnock TV commentary team. Tickets for the match are available from the Hibs website. The Evening News will be running a live blog on the game from Rugby Park.

Odds

Kilmarnock 6/5 Draw 21/10 Hibs 12/5

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