Middle men will be biggest selection poser for Hibs boss
A lot has been made of the dilemma facing Alan Stubbs this weekend with regards to his strike-partnership. In reality, the more difficult decision will come elsewhere in the side.
While it’s true that Jason Cummings has a knack for scoring against Rangers – as the striker put it himself, it’s always worth backing him as first goalscorer in these fixtures – there isn’t the extra motivation, fuelled by a sense of early-career injustice, that he feels when playing Hearts. Cummings is a big game player, that’s why he scores against the Ibrox side so often, but he’s shown in the last few months that his big-match Midas touch cannot function when Anthony Stokes is in close proximity. James Keatings looked a more comfortable partner to Stokes in the 3-2 defeat at Falkirk, making the sort of runs Stokes could find when the on loan Celtic attacker dropped deep to collect from the midfield, and Stubbs should, and likely will, stick with the hot hand.
Ultimately, the decision that will keep Stubbs up at night regards midfielder Dylan McGeouch. When fit, McGeouch makes Hibs tick and, it could be argued, is even more valuable than apple of the Scottish media’s eye, John McGinn. If he’s fit then it’s a no brainer to select him, he should be one of the first names on the teamsheet. However, while McGeouch may be healthy enough to play, there is more than enough evidence this season to suggest he will not last the 90 minutes. Therefore, starting him represents a major gamble. If he’s forced to from the action then it could throw Hibs off their gameplan. Besides, Hibs defeated Rangers in the last game between the sides without the midfielder in the starting XI.
To compensate for the absence of McGeouch, look for Stubbs to opt for a 3-5-2 formation. It worked in Hibs’ victory over Rangers the last time they met and represents their greatest chance of victory.
There’s always a risk using such a system against a team with two full-backs and two wide players, which Rangers have, because the wing-backs can easily be caught in two-on-one situations. To combat this, the Hibs central midfield three will need to be at their industrious best, with a probable line-up of McGinn and Liam Henderson using their work rate to flank the imposing Marvin Bartley who’ll stand ahead of the back three.
The loss of five goals in two matches against Falkirk may prompt Stubbs to turn back to Mark Oxley ahead of Conrad Logan in goal. However, if he was going to make such a switch, it’s likely he would have done so before the second leg against Falkirk, after Logan made his first leg error at Easter Road.
• Since this article was published I’ve had a few Hibs supporters tell me Niklas Gunnarsson is much likelier to start ahead of Liam Fontaine. I bow to their superior knowledge.