Livingston v Hibs: Omeonga to start? | Gauld and Spector to feature? | Chance to leapfrog Hearts
Hibs travel to Livingston on Friday night (7.45pm KO) knowing that three points in front of the BT Sport cameras would take them above Capital rivals Hearts in the Ladbrokes Premiership table.
An excellent run, which has brought 13 points from a possible 15, has lifted the Hibees into sixth place, just seven points from third.
The transformation has been stark as they head to the Tony Macaroni Arena in search of their first win over Livingston this season.
The Englishman has achieved it with a settled team, making just two alterations to the starting lineup across his five league games in charge.
David Gray is expected to be fit after rolling his ankle in the 2-0 win over Motherwell before the winter break. Hibs’ record with their captain in the team is excellent. He has only been on the losing side in three of his 16 Premiership appearances so far he has played this term.
In attack Florian Kamberi will continue to support Marc McNulty, whether that is from a wider position or centrally.
With Darren McGregor back from suspension having missed the win over the Steelmen, Heckingbottom is presented with a dilemma. Does he keep the same XI with Mark Milligan in the centre of defence or bring McGregor back in?
Doing so could have a knock-on effect. The experienced Australian could be moved into the midfield, but who drops out with both Vykintas Slivka and fans’ favourite Stephane Omeonga impressing?
The latter is someone supporters would like to see retained after his loan spell ends. It is something Heckingbottom also wants but he understands that it will be difficult with the midfielder and on loan striker McNulty likely attracting interest from elsewhere.
Omeonga and Slivka were both on international duty with Belgium U21s and Lithuania respectively, something which the Hibs boss may take under consideration. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Omeonga and Milligan partnered, with Slivka on the bench, owing to their battling qualities.
There is positive news on the injury front with Ryan Gauld playing around an hour for the reserves during the week, netting in a 5-0 win over Ross County. That match also saw new signing Jonathan Spector get a run out for 67 minutes. Both should be in the squad and they could be joined by defender Darnell Johnson who has returned to training following his injury issues.
Livingston have a very slender chance of reaching the top six but realistically it would involve winning all three of their matches before the split, starting with Friday’s night’s clash with Hibs.
After an excellent start to the season and a fine first half of the season Gary Holt’s side would have expected to be much closer to sixth place, if not in sixth place themselves.
However, in 10 leagues games across December, January and February they won just once.
They have switched from the back three which brought them success earlier in the campaign and Hibs will likely face a 4-2-3-1 system.
Livi have picked up in recent weeks, defeating St Johnstone and Kilmarnock, plus drawing with Aberdeen. But their inconsistency is shown in defeats to St Mirren and Dundee.
Still, Livi have put together a season many did not expect of them and have all but consolidated their place in the league for next season.
Livingston players to watch
The Hibs forwards will need to have their shooting boots on to beat goalkeeper Liam Kelly, while captain Craig Halkett has been recognised as one of the best centre-backs in the league and can pop up with a goal every now and then. It is no surprise he is attracting interest from elsewhere. Fellow defender Declan Gallagher has arguably been even better and has recently been found bombing forward from right-back. Alan Lithgow’s long throws will have to be guarded against. Breaking forward to support the forwards is Scott Pittman, another player being watched by rivals.
Injuries / suspensions / unavailable
Manager Gary Holt has a couple of unnamed doubts for the fixture, while Liam Kelly and Steve Lawson have returned from international duty with Scotland and Togo respectively and will be assessed. Long-term casualties Ricki Lamie, Dolly Menga and Lee Miller are continuing their rehab work.
Paul Heckingbottom welcomes back Darren McGregor after suspension, while David Gray should be fine after hurting his ankle in the win over Motherwell. Ryan Gauld and Jonathan Spector should be involved after coming through around an hour of the recent Reserve League win over Ross County. Thomas Agyepong and Martin Boyle remain out.
Livingston (4-2-3-1): Kelly; Gallagher, Halkett, Lithgow, Brown; Lawson, Jacobs; Sibbald, Pittman, Erskine; Robinson. Subs from: Odoffin, Byrne, Erskine, Hardie, Tiffoney, Blues, Stewart.
Hibs (4-4-2): Marciano; Gray, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson; Mallan, Omeonga, Milligan, Horgan; Kamberi, McNutly. Subs from: Dabrowski, Waugh, Mackie, Bartley, Bigirimana, F Murray, Allan, Shaw, Gauld, Spector, Slivka.
Magic number - 7
The number of games since an away win in this fixture. It arrived in September 2015, Liam Henderson netting the only goal of the game for Hibs.
Livingston’s best player since the turn of the year has been combative midfielder Steve Lawson. Watching him go up against Stephane Omeonga should make for fascinating viewing. Both are very much all-action, capable of working defensively and on the front foot. While they may both be dynamic and mobile, they combine it with a composure and ability to spot a pass in the final third.
No team have made more substitutes than Livingston’s 72. Hibs are one substitute behind. Livingston also edge the Easter Road side in through passes, making 232 to their opponent’s 229. No team have made more.
Fifa-listed Nick Walsh will be the man in the middle. It will be his third time officiating Hibs this season. The previous two encounters he oversaw were the 4-0 win over Elgin City in the Scottish Cup and 1-0 defeat to St Johnstone in the league. He awarded three penalties across those games, two of which were missed.
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