Craig Fowler looks at the key players in today’s Scottish Cup semi-final between Hibs and Aberdeen.
Efe Ambrose (Hibs)
In the match against Rangers a couple of weeks ago, to say Rooney had a quiet first half would be putting it mildly. He barely touched the ball; barely got involved in the action. Anyone walking in late may not have realised he was playing. Suddenly, in one second half moment, he came to life. On to a chance in a heartbeat, he was only denied by the reflexes of Wes Foderingham. Though he didn’t score, it was a reminder to why he plays for Aberdeen most weeks despite the deficiencies in other parts of his game. It doesn’t need to be a well constructed move, a great cross, or something laid on a plate. His movement around the penalty area is so distinctive, so deadly, that he makes chances happen with his senses alone. The two men tasked with stopping him at Hampden will be Darren McGregor and Efe Ambrose, and what a tough task that will be.
As great as Ambrose has been for Hibs, we all know the knock on him: his lack of concentration at the highest level often lets him down. He can’t afford such an error on Saturday, because Rooney will punish him. The Dons striker can lull defenders into a false sense of security. The Nigerian must keep one eye on him at all times.
Jason Cummings (Hibs)
It was tempting to pick Martin Boyle for a few reasons. Neil Lennon will likely go with the 4-1-4-1 he preferred last week since it matches up very well with Aberdeen, who’re a real threat down the flanks. If he decides to go with a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 narrow diamond instead, Hibs could leave themselves exposed. Two banks of four with an additional midfielder sitting in front of the defence for protection should give them the best chance of negating the threat of their opponents.
If they do start with such a system, Boyle is assured of a place in the line-up. The winger will be tasked with assisting David Gray at right-back in an effort to stop Jonny Hayes. Meanwhile, his pace on the counter-attack would be huge for Hibs as they look to get in behind an Aberdeen side that’ll be hopinh to dominate possession and push the Scottish Cup holders deep into their own half.
That’s why Boyle was considered in this list, but in a toss up between the two players it was always going to be Cummings. Similar to Adam Rooney for Aberdeen, the Hibs striker just has an incredible knack for sniffing out a chance. He’s bagged 21 goals already this season and you wouldn’t bet against him adding to that tally on Saturday.
Shay Logan (Aberdeen)
Somehow capable of covering at right-back and right-midfield at the same time, Logan puts in a power of running in each and every game. With Hayes and Niall McGinn often swapping flanks, drifting inside or, sometimes, ending up on the same wing in particular attacking moves, Logan is left with a lot of space in which to attack. He’s a danger whipping balls into the area and making late runs to attack the six-yard box.
If the two sides line up as we believe, then he’ll be going head to head with Andrew Shinnie. The ex-Inverness CT man is a natural centre-midfielder by trade and does like to do his work drifting inside. He won’t be able to do that as much with Logan to keep an eye on.
John McGinn (Hibs)
This entry goes without saying. McGinn is a big-game player. While his form in the Ladbrokes Championship this term has been a little underwhelming, he’s again shown the ability to turn it on in the big games. Against Hearts in the fifth round replay at Easter Road, he just dominated the midfield area. Not only is he a terrier without the football, continuing putting opponents under pressure and breaking up play, he also has the skills to dictate play for his side. A bundle of energy with great vision and passing abilities, it’ll be up to Aberdeen to throw him off stride. It’s hard to imagine Hibs emerging victorious if McGinn has a poor display.
Niall McGinn (Aberdeen)
Aberdeen go with McGinn and Hayes. If either of them play well they’ll probably win, if both do they’re near enough unstoppable. The hope for Hibs is to force each of the pair into quiet, unproductive afternoons. That task will be easier with McGinn. Hayes has a certain consistency which McGinn can’t match, and the latter is coming back into the side having missed last weekend’s trip to St Johnstone through injury. McGinn insists he’s fully fit and ready to go, but we don’t know how much that is just bluster designed to throw Hibs off the scent.
A double-figure goalscorer in four of his five seasons at Pittodrie, McGinn is a source of goals in addition to his creative qualities, which include a wicked delivery from set-pieces. If he’s slow to recover from the injury, or Hibs can find a way of forcing him from the game, then the underdogs’ chances will rise significantly.
Kenny McLean (Aberdeen)
It’ll be interesting to see where McLean starts against Hibs. In Aberdeen’s 2-1 victory over St Johnstone, Derek McInnes did a little tinkering with his midfield three. Instead of having McLean at his usual position of No.10, he was sitting deeper alongside Ryan Jack, with Graeme Shinnie pushed further forward. From watching the game, it would seem the Aberdeen boss wanted to exploit the space between the lines in St Johnstone’s 4-4-2, and it worked. McLean got time and space to spray the ball about in front of Saints’ midfield four, who were having a tough time tracking the runs of Shinnie, as the energetic terrier looked to attack the box whenever possible.
It’s no coincidence Aberdeen improved as a team when McLean’s started churning out man-of-the-match worthy performances each and every week. When he plays with a sense of urgency at attacking midfield he’s simply one of the country’s better players.
It’ll also be interesting to see who Lennon tasks with marking the midfielder. Fraser Fyvie performed very well at the base against Queen of the South, but Marvin Bartley has always been preferred in games against top flight sides, and usually turns in a star performance.