St Johnstone v Hibs: Where will the 2021 Scottish Cup final be won and lost?

A tactical look at how Saturday’s showpiece encounter at Hampden Park could play out.

Jamie McCart and Hibs striker Christian Doidge battle for possession during St Johnstone's win at Hampden earlier in the season. Picture: SNS
Jamie McCart and Hibs striker Christian Doidge battle for possession during St Johnstone's win at Hampden earlier in the season. Picture: SNS

Hibs’ choice of formation

Jack Ross has lost all three meetings this season with St Johnstone when he’s favoured a three-at-the-back system, while he managed four points from two games in the other fixtures where he deployed a 4-1-4-1. Recently, Hibs have been using a flat 4-4-2 with Jackson Irvine on the left of midfield and it’s the system they should utilise at Hampden. Shaun Rooney destroyed Hibs in the League Cup semi-final, but Jackson Irvine is the perfect opponent to place upon him. He can match the wing-back for both power and running, while he’s enough of a threat at the attacking end to keep Rooney honest.

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Up front, you’d typically want one striker against a three-at-the-back because it’s a difficult match-up problem for the opponent, who either have their centre-backs moving out of shape, thereby opening up spaces elsewhere, or have three defenders marking one man, thus creating overloads in other areas. However, both left and right-sided centre backs Jason Kerr and Jamie McCart have the ability to contribute to the attack by stepping out with the football, so a two-man strike-force will be required as a deterrent. Besides, Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet make a strong partnership bringing the best out of each other.

Small adjustments will make huge difference to St Johnstone

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There have only been two matches this season against top-flight opposition where manager Callum Davidson hasn’t started with some variation of a 3-4-3, be it the classic style with two wingers or No.10s playing off a central striker, or a lone No.10 behind a forward pairing. But while his preferred system may not change too much, he often makes slight alterations to it for every game, whether it’s the aforementioned shape of the front three or which personnel has the best chance of hurting the opposition.

Saints have a myriad of options in attack. Chris Kane holds it up, Stevie May does a power of work, Guy Melamed has the biggest goal threat, Glenn Middleton and Michael O’Halloran are spark-plugs with searing pace, and there’s the creative ingenuity of David Wotherspoon or Craig Conway. The rest of the team pretty much picks itself, assuming everyone is back after their Covid-19 outbreak, but it’s this part of the team where Davidson has his biggest decision.

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What to do with a problem like Martin Boyle?

The Aberdonian Australian is the best player in the country outside of Glasgow, no doubt about it. Furthermore, he’s in terrific form at the moment and will cause a real headache for St Johnstone. Not only will he provide a major threat to Hibs in attack, his presence could also curtail St Johnstone’s threat down the flank. If, as expected, Wotherspoon starts on the left of the front three, the former Hibs man will do a lot of drifting inside, opening up space for Callum Booth to attack on the overlap. Another former Hibby, Booth shone in the semi-final win over St Mirren, but it’s much easier to attack with gusto when you’ve got Richard Tait instead of Boyle to worry about. Saints need impetus from wing-backs to make themselves a fully-round attack but leaving Boyle space to run into is asking for trouble.

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