Celtic v Hibs key battles: Where the Premier Sports Cup final will be won and lost
A look at the key battles that could decide the Premier Sports Cup final between Celtic and Hibs at Hampden this afternoon.
Abada v Porteous
Celtic's injury troubles in the attacking third mean they will likely turn to winger Liel Abada to lead the line through the middle. The 20-year-old Israel international showed he can fill in the position fairly well with a lively performance and a goal in the 2-1 win over Ross County in midweek. Whether he can transfer that onto the big stage at Hampden is another matter, particularly as he will come up against one of the top young centre-halves in the country in Ryan Porteous. To make an impact on the match, Abada will firstly have to stand up to the physical challenge presented by the Scotland call-up and then look to cause problems for the Hibs defence with his movement and pace. Porteous has had an up and down season so far with some dominant performances mixed in with the odd mistake and the occasional rash challenge. When on his game though the 22-year-old is a formidable opponent for any centre-forward, never mind a stand-in one.
Boyle v Starfelt
Celtic will need no introduction to the threat posed by Martin Boyle. The Hibs forward will be full of confidence on his return to Hampden after his first-half hat-trick in the semi-final win over Rangers last month. Boyle is often deployed on the wing but caretaker boss David Gray has moved him through the middle alongside Kevin Nisbet in his two games in charge so the Celtic centre-halves will be the ones mainly tasked with keeping him quiet. Carl Starfelt v Martin Boyle might have filled the Celtic fans with dread back in August but the Swede has recovered from a sticky start to his Parkhead career and has looked a lot more solid in recent times. However, he didn't cover himself in glory in the midweek win over Ross County with a mistimed challenge earning a red card for a second booking shortly after picking up a caution for dissent. Starfelt will hope for a better afternoon at Hampden as he and his fellow defenders will need to be at the top of their game to prevent Boyle from running riot. Starfelt's positioning will need to be spot-on as he will not be able to compete with Boyle in a foot race.
Juranovic v Stevenson
Josip Juranovic will likely be asked to play a more advanced role than normal due to Celtic's injuries out wide. The Croatian international has already proved this season he can chip in with goals and assists, but he will have his work cut out against Hibs veteran Lewis Stevenson. The 33-year-old has put in two flawless performances since being restored to the starting line-up under caretaker boss Gray and is keeping highly-rated youngster Josh Doig out of the team. Gray will almost certainly stick with Stevenson's experience as he will be well aware of threat posed by Juranovic as well as Anthony Ralston on the overlap. Stevenson claimed the man of the match award the last time Hibs won the League Cup in 2007 and, now at the opposite end of this career, he will need to be at his best again to curb the threat down Celtic's right.
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