Rangers v Hibs preview: Duo back from injury | youngsters to keep place? | terrific record at Ibrox
Neil Lennon will be hoping for a reaction from his side after a 1-1 draw with Livingston saw Hibs remain in the bottom half of the table with two games left before the winter break.
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Games have come thick and fast for the Easter Road club in the winter period. This will be their seventh fixture of the month and represents one of the sternest possible tests in Scottish football - hardly ideal preparation with an Edinburgh derby right around the corner.
Then again, getting a result at Ibrox - where Hibs have won on five occasions in their last eight trips - would be the perfect confidence booster ahead of the derby and give Lennon’s side every chance of going above their rivals in the league table as we head into 2019.
Though we’ve taken a stab at guessing Lennon’s line-up in this preview, it’s very difficult to predict the starting XI at present as the manager continues to tinker with both shape and personnel as he looks to get his side back to their early season form.
Last time around there were surprise starts for youngsters Lewis Allan and Sean Mackie, while the manager expressed his dissatisfaction with the form of Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren this season, as he accused two of the bigger performers from last term of lacking the hunger required. It remains to be seen whether the inexperienced starters from the Livingston draw will keep their place.
Injuries / suspensions / unavailable
Rangers - Steven Gerrard could gamble on the fitness of Ryan Kent. The on-loan Liverpool winger has been struggling with a hamstring injury for the past six weeks but with the winter break approaching, Gerrard is considering whether to throw him back into action for the Boxing Day clash. Borna Barisic is definitely out of Gers’ final two games of 2018 after injuring his hamstring against St Johnstone, while Ryan Jack (groin), Scott Arfield (hamstring) and Gareth McAuley (thigh) are doubts for the Hibs match. Long-term absentees Graham Dorrans and Jamie Murphy (both knee) remain out.
Hibs - Hibernian hope to have defender Paul Hanlon and midfielder Stevie Mallan back from injury. David Gray was back on the bench on Saturday following injury and is looking for his first action since the 6-0 win over Hamilton on October 6. Miquel Nelom, Charalampos Mavrias, Marvin Bartley, Thomas Agyepong and goalkeepers Ofir Marciano and Ross Laidlaw are all expected to miss out again.
4.9 - The recent 0-0 draw between the teams was an aberration compared with recent matches. The previous 10 games before last week’s stalemate saw an average of 4.9 goals per fixture.
Alfredo Morelos gave the Hibs defence a torrid time at Easter Road last week. Though the striker didn’t score, missing a hatful of chances, the Hibs defence can’t gamble on that happening again, especially after his double against St Johnstone on Saturday. If Efe Ambrose or Ryan Porteous can keep him quiet then Hibs will have a chance of snatching something as Gerrard’s men rely on the Colombian for firepower.
Rangers have beaten Hibs just once in the last seven games between the two sides, even then it was a fortunate victory at Easter Road as Hibs controlled it for the majority but were undone by a quick one-two punch shortly before half-time in December last year. Lennon’s side should also feel buoyed by their current run of five games without defeat. Though they’ve had two disappointing home draws against St Mirren and Livingston in that stretch, they’ve also beaten reigning champions and league leaders Celtic.
Hibs are thus far undefeated in games involving Andrew Dallas this season, drawing against Aberdeen and Hearts and earning victory over Dundee in the three games officiated by the 35-year-old. Rangers have only had Dallas referee one of their matches this term, though it worked out quite well for them with the whistler awarding two late penalties in their 4-1 win at Hamilton Accies.
Hibs (4-4-2 diamond): Bogdan; Gray, Ambrose, Porteous, Stevenson; Milligan; Mallan, Slivka; Hyndman; Boyle, Kamberi. Subs from: Dabrowski, Whittaker, Hanlon, Horgan, Maclaren, Mackie, McGregor, Shaw, Murray, Gullan, Allan.
Rangers (4-4-2): McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Worrall, Wallace; Candeias, Ross McCrorie, Halliday, Middleton; Morelos, Lafferty. Subs from: Robby McCrorie, Foderingham, Flanagan, McAuley, Katic, Jack, Arfield, Coulibaly, Grezda, Kent