Beni Baningime: How will Hearts cope without key midfielder for huge Hibs clash
It was the injury news no one at Hearts wanted. Beni Baningime will miss the crucial Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibs next month.
Longer term, the more concerning news is that there has been no timeframe given for the midfielder’s return, the club keen not to add any extra pressure with the player set to undergo surgery and a long journey back to first-team football, as manager Robbie Neilson put it.
Looking ahead to the summer, Neilson had previously mentioned looking at central midfielders with both Baningime and Cammy Devlin both attracting interest prior to the January transfer window.
In the meantime, Hearts have some very important games coming up – well, one very important one. The Tynecastle Park club will play Hibs at Hampden Park, a week after they host their rivals in the league.
It's hard to argue the Gorgie club have third place all but wrapped up with a 14-point lead in third place. The main focus amongst fans is on the meeting with Hibs in Glasgow.
Baningime will be a huge miss for that game. Since making his debut in a league win over Celtic, the midfielder instantly impressed the Hearts support. He matched composure and intelligence in possession with a fine ability at reading the game, getting his leg into difficult positions to win the ball then protect it.
The good news for Neilson is that he will have a number of midfield options if a couple of other injury issues clear up.
Who can step up?
Cammy Devlin is currently also out after picking up a hamstring injury in a draw with Dundee United earlier this month. A swift return would be welcome due to his ability to cover the ground, engage with and pester opponents and support the attack. No player in the league is involved in more defensive duels, while he records the most number of successful tackles per match.
Then there is Peter Haring. A fan favourite and someone more than adept at filling in for Baningime at the base of the midfield. He may not be as dynamic as his team-mate but he reads the game so well and is arguably more versatile on the ball, especially with his quality at switching play which could be a huge advantage on the Hampden Park pitch.
A Devlin-Haring axis would certainly provide balance in the centre of the pitch. But there are others to consider.
Andy Halliday is someone Neilson trusts in different positions depending on the specific job at hand. An occasion like the derby could require added bite and the former Rangers midfielder certainly provides that. Without Devlin his battling and pressing ability would certainly be of use in the centre of the pitch.
Then there is Toby Sibbick and Michael Smith.
The latter is currently out with a back injury and hasn't played since the middle of February but he shares similar qualities and style of play to Baningime in midfield and has carried out a role at the base previously. He is smart with and without the ball and a good reader of the game.
As for Sibbick, his most impressive performances in a Hearts shirt have largely been in midfield where he provides a strong presence.
It is not an ideal scenario, but Neilson certainly has options.
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