Easter Road will host the Edinburgh Derby on Saturday as Hibs and Hearts look to recover from their stuttering form.
Hibs have had great results away to Rangers and a victory over Celtic clouded by their inconsistent strike-force and poor results at home against Livingston and Dundee. Hearts’ early title challenge has also fallen off a cliff, only recording two victories in their last nine fixtures.
Neil Lennon’s men will be missing key men in Martin Boyle, Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren due to their involvement in the Australian national team. The Hibee’s side takes further hits with Lewis Stevenson and Ryan Porteous also struggling to be match-fit for Saturday’s crucial clash.
Hearts aren’t free of their injury woes either with John Souttar, Uche Ikpeazu, Harry Cochrane and Clevid Dikamona all missing through injury. With both side’s forced into fielding weaker sides, where will the key battles lie in Saturday’s tussle?
Berra v Kamberi
Christophe Berra is Hearts’ leader at the back, and he will have the task of managing a misfiring Florian Kamberi on Saturday.
The Swiss international has been poor since arriving from Grasshoppers in the summer, but he still has that star quality he showed in his first spell at Easter Road. If Berra performs, this could be a mismatch.
If Kamberi shows up, however, he could become a massive problem for the former Scotland international.
McGregor vs Naismith
Darren McGregor has had his injury troubles, but he was back to his best against Rangers. He netted the Hibs equaliser that seen them take a point from the Govan outfit. He’ll have another tough task on Saturday though, as McGregor prepares to take on Hearts’ returning Steven Naismith.
Since Naismith’s return from injury, the Jambo’s attacks have had more purpose, and the Norwich City loanee netted his first goal since his injury against Hamilton on Boxing Day. With fitness a potential problem for both these players, it’ll be interesting to see who can last the full 90.
Haring vs Mallan
Stephen Mallan is Hibs’ creative spark in midfield, whilst Peter Haring is Hearts’ anchor-man in the middle of the park. Whoever wins this could decide who dictates the match.
If Mallan can get on the ball, he can be deadly, especially from long-range. If Haring gets the better of his opponent, however, it could be a long afternoon for Lennon. His team relies on Mallan to play balls into the forward line. If Mallan can’t do that, Hibs will struggle to mount any real attacks.
Mackie vs Mitchell
He’s been a bright spark in recent weeks, but Sean Mackie could have his biggest test against Demetri Mitchell on Saturday.
The youngster made his first Hibs start against Livingston last Saturday, and has impressed in fixtures against Celtic and Rangers.
Mitchell has been out of form in recent weeks, and despite being a reliable option for Craig Levein, he’s failed to perform in fixtures prior to this. Mackie could give Mitchell another game to forget.