Hearts and Hibs go head to head in the first Edinburgh derby of the season on Wednesday night. Patrick McPartlin looks at five talking points ahead of the crunch match
Hearts team selection
Craig Levein is without several key players for the midweek fixture; namely his first choice centre back pairing of Christophe Berra and John Souttar, strike duo Uche Ikpeazu and Steven Naismith and possibly one of his most influential midfielders in Peter Haring, while Clevid Dikamona - another centre back - is rated doubtful.
Much has been made of the Tynecastle side’s strength in depth, but the latest raft of injuries will stretch Levein’s options. Aaron Hughes, who has played 13 minutes of first team football since Hearts defeated Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup on August 18, could return while Michael Smith can also do a job in central defence with right back Marcus Godinho returning from his own lengthy lay-off.
The midfield will take care of itself, although the potential absence of Haring and the loss of Naismith will require a reshuffle. Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald played no part in the reserve game on Monday so both could be involved in the squad to face Hibs, while Sean Clare is another option. Craig Wighton will likely partner Steven MacLean in attack if Levein opts for two up front.
The bodies are there - Levein just has to work out in what order to line them up.
Neil Lennon sprang a surprise in the last derby meeting by dropping Jamie Maclaren from a team that had gone 12 games unbeaten, and deploying Brandon Barker just behind Florian Kamberi in attack.
The Hibs boss tweaked his game plan for the trip to Celtic last time out and said afterwards that he “took responsibility” for the loss of two early goals.
Lennon sent his charges out in a 4-1-4-1 formation for the three wins (and ten goals) against Dundee, St Mirren and Hamilton - two of which were away games - and could resort to that on Wednesday night.
However, Tynecastle is a narrow pitch which could have a bearing on tactics and Hearts’ gameplan could also influence how Lennon sends his team out.
There are nine members of the Hibs squad who are yet to play in a derby, and 11 for Hearts.
Not all of them will play, of course, but there will be a fair number who either start or make an appearance off the bench who will be making their bow in the Edinburgh showpiece - possibly as many as half of each team.
There has always been an emphasis on players understanding the magnitude of the game, and the importance of the fixture to both sets of fans.
A number of the derby debutants, however, have played in Scotland and will be aware of the occasion, while Hibs midfielder Mark Milligan has already spoken of the need for cool heads being important and Hearts forward Steven MacLean added: “Roll on Wednesday night. It’s a derby, let’s go and turn them over.”
Given the breathless nature of the last derby, there’s little chance of this week’s fixture being anything other than full-blooded and 100 miles an hour.
Life’s a pitch?
Last season, the Tynecastle playing surface came under fire from various parties.
For Brendan Rodgers, the grass was “embarrassingly long” and needed watered whereas Neil Lennon branded it a “gluepot” after a goalless derby in late December.
Amid photos of lawnmowers and Craig Levein memes, it was announced that a new hybrid pitch was to be installed over the summer at Tynecastle.
It will be interesting to see what effect the new surface has on the quality of the game - going by previous derbies in EH11, the idea of the “beautiful game” has been well and truly kicked into the long grass. Will that all change come 7.45pm on Hallowe’en?
Rest and relaxation
Hibs haven’t played a competitive match since their 4-2 loss to Celtic. In the same time period, Hearts have travelled to Dens Park and defeated Dundee 3-0 and lost 3-0 to Celtic at BT Murrayfield in the Betfred Cup semi-finals.
Naive individuals unfamiliar with the Edinburgh derby might suggest this could pose a problem for Hearts and hand Hibs an advantage, to which seasoned fans of either club would laugh softly, shake their heads and walk away.
Every fan of a green or maroon persuasion knows better than to second guess a derby, and the fact Hibs won the 2016 Scottish Cup final on the back of a hectic schedule against a Rangers side that had had plenty of rest before the match shows the folly of predicting matches based on fixture congestion.
Adrenaline, ghost goals, luck and wonder goals have all featured in derbies over the years. Why should this one be any different?