Hibs travel to Dumfries to face a rejuvenated Queen of the South in a match likely to test their automatic promotion credentials.
Currently sitting atop the Scottish Championship with a six point advantage over second placed Dundee United Hibs know a win against Queens could prove crucial as the title race heats up.
The Palmerston outfit have been improving under new boss Gary Naysmith and are undefeated in their last three league outings which include a fine 3-0 victory over St Mirren in Paisley and a 3-3 draw with Dundee United at Tannadice.
Hibs have meet Queens on three occasions already this season with honours even.
The Doonhammers shocked Neil Lennon’s men 3-1 back in September when the two sides met in the Scottish League Cup at Easter Road back in August which was followed by a 0-0 draw in September when they met in the previous fixture on the plastic pitch in Dumfries, a match which saw Lewis Stevenson controversially red carded after two fairly innoculous challenges.
November’s meeting at Easter Road saw a convincing 4-0 home win with the goals coming from Danny Graham, David Gray and Martin Boyle with a Higgins own goal completing the rout.
The match is sure to be a tough fought affair on a 3G surface which can be a great leveller with Hibs having to adjust to the tough conditions at a venue where points have to be well earned.
Darren McGregor:‘As we`ve seen before, you go into games you are perfectly capable of winning but if there is an element of complacency or of taking the foot off the pedal, then you can lose and we are well aware of that.
‘We are well aware they are on a good run and have players who can hurt you.’
Neil Lennon:‘It`s really important that we keep winning games in the league, far more important than any Cup tie at the minute.
“The two things can help each other and a good cup run can always build momentum. Stubbsy might say it was a bit of a hindrance last season, with the amount of games they had, but I think if we have a decent cup run then it will build confidence. But the priority has always been, and will always be, the league.’
Gary Naysmith: “There is no tougher test in this division than Hibernian so it`s a perfect opportunity to really see where we are at. Hibs have only lost two league games this season and I`m looking forward to the challenge. I`ve played against Neil Lennon many times so I’m now looking forward to pitting my wits against him as a manager. It’s a game that we are all looking forward to and a chance for the players to go and test themselves against the best squad in the league.”
Queen of the South Team News:
Former Hearts man Jamie Hamill returns for the Dumfries side after serving a one match ban.
Jordan Marshall and Dale Hilson are unlikely to feature despite returning to training.
Player to watch: Stephen Dobbie
The former Hibs frontman has netted 18 times in league & cup appearances this season since rejoining Queens after spending seven successful years south of the border.
With over 140 career goals to date the 34 year old still needs to be kept quiet if Hibs hope to return to the capital with all three points.
Hibernian Team News:
Hibs are definitely without injured first choice goalkeeper Ofir Marciano who is ruled out following an accidental clash with Liam Fontaine during last weekend’s comprehesive 8-1 victory over Bonnyrigg Rose.
Scott Gallacher, signed after his release from his St Mirren contract midweek provides back up for Ross Laidlaw who will start in the Israeli international’s absence.
David Gray is also available for selection following his suspension for last week’s Cup tie whilst Paul Hanlon and Dylan McGeouch should both also return after injury.
Player to watch: Fraser Fyvie
Often under-rated by his own supporters Fyvie will be tasked with shackling the home side’s midfield and providing the legs in Hibs.
A very capable player who likes to keep things simple, he was badly missed when out injured.
Match Facts & Stats
Alongside Dobbie having plied his trade at Easter Road Queens also have former Hibees Dan Carmichael and John Rankin with the latter having signed from Falkirk just after New Year.
Carmichael was desperately unlucky during his time at Easter Road suffering injury upon injury and failing to hold down a starting role on the occasions he was fully fit albeit a very dangerous player on his day.
The Scottish Cup draw is hopefully pushed to the back of the players minds when they take to the field and I’m hoping for a strong, resilient performance.
Queen of the South 1 Hibernian 2
Hibs face Ayr United in the Scottish Championship next Saturday (4th Feb) at Easter Road. K.O 3pm