Regardless of which side emerges victorious, there will be a new hero in the city of Edinburgh come Sunday evening. Craig Fowler looks at the most likely candidates.
Jason Cummings (Hibs)
The striker loves a derby game, and with good reason. Discarded by Hearts as a youngster after suffering a terrible knee injury, Cummings has done an admirable job of rebuilding his career to the point where he’s one of the top prospects in the country and a regular for the Scotland under-21s.
He netted twice in three appearances against his former employers last season. This, added to his goals against Rangers in the past two seasons, shows he is a big-game player. He’s not in his best form at the moment, but there’s nothing like an Edinburgh derby to bring him out of that funk.
Alan Stubbs may considering partnering Anthony Stokes with Chris Dagnall, seeing as the two might make a more diverse partnership, though the Hibs boss would do well not to overthink this selection.
Arnaud Djoum (Hearts)
It’s set up for the midfielder to go from being admired by the Hearts support into becoming a fully fledged hero.
Prior to his signing, central midfield was becoming a bit of a problem for Hearts boss Robbie Neilson as he struggled to get consistent performances from Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben and Miguel Pallardo. Since Djoum’s arrival, not only has that area been strengthened, and thereby the rest of the team, but Pallardo and Buaben have returned to their best as well.
His mix of industry, skill and intelligence enables Robbie Neilson to prefer a 4-4-2 system without sacrificing the midfield battle. He also provides a legitimate goal threat from deep and Hibs better be wary of his runs into the penalty area.
Under normal circumstances, Juanma would not have been expected to start. However, with Osman Sow on the verge of a move to China, and new addition Abiola Dauda having recently just touched down in Edinburgh, it’s all set for the big Spaniard to stake a claim for a regular starting XI spot.
Even if Sow’s move falls through or, as has been suggested, he’s allowed to play as part of the transfer deal, Neilson is likely to go with the player whose frame of mind is firmly focused on the task at hand.
His strengths could be key if Hearts can isolate him on Paul Hanlon. The centre half has really come into his own these past 18 months, but he did struggle against physical strikers prior to Hibs’ relegation and he could find Juanma to be more than a handful. Stubbs will likely consider a three-at-the-back formation to leave extra cover against Hearts’ front two.
John McGinn (Hibs)
It’s difficult to pick out any one member from the Hibs midfield because there are a few potential match-winners. Liam Henderson has really come on to a game recently and is a more consistent goal threat than McGinn, while Dylan McGeouch always plays to a consistently high standard. However, while McGeouch makes Hibs a good team every week, it’s when McGinn is at his best that they truly become great.
The all-action midfielder has the ability to dictate possession and the tempo of the game. If he can do it against Hearts then his side have a great chance of progressing.
He also fired in a tremendous 25-yard finish at Tynecastle just last week, so he’ll certainly feel confident making a similar sort of impact.
Alim Ozturk (Hearts)
Scorer of the most outrageous derby goal - well, maybe ever – Ozturk is always capable of testing the opposing goalkeeper from long range.
In matches of this type there are always likely to be a number of free-kicks conceded around the penalty area. Hibs’ goalkeeper Mark Oxley has a sketchy record this season with defending direct free-kicks – James Tavernier’s two free-kicks in Hibs v Rangers matches, Willie Gibson’s strike for Dumbarton and Stephen Mallan’s recent set-piece for St Mirren all spring to mind - and he doesn’t have good memories of facing Ozturk pile-drivers either.
While his shooting abilities may come into play, Ozturk’s bread and butter is taking charge at the back as captain of the side and leader of the defence. After some rough beginnings, his partnership with Blazej Augustyn has flourished in recent weeks, though they will have to adjust to the loss of left-back Igor Rossi. The Brazilian has been Hearts’ most consistent performer this season.
Anthony Stokes (Hibs)
Part of the problem with the Jambos’ defence earlier in the campaign was an unfamiliarity between Ozturk and Augustyn. They had a tendency to each try and take command of situations and when both stepped out, huge gaps appeared in behind. While the problem has evaporated since Ozturk’s return from injury, they absolutely cannot let it happen again. If they do so against one of the top five strikers in the country, they will get punished.
Fears that Stokes would take a while to get up to speed have already been dismissed with two goals in his first two games for Hibs, which when you break it down is actually two goals in his first 95 minutes.
He may not have enough in the tank to last the full match, especially not with the frantic pace expected at Tynecastle. However, his touch, technique and ruthless eye for goal, not to mention his preference for playing against Hearts, will still make him a frightening presence despite any fitness issues.