Following last Saturday’s abysmal showing in Paisley which saw Hibs slump to a dismal 2-0 defeat against a St Mirren outfit reduced to ten men for over an hour, keeper Ben Williams criticised his team-mates for being ‘soft and spoiled’ after the Hibees slumped to their fifth successive league defeat.
With just one win in fifteen games manager Terry Butcher certainly doesn’t have his troubles to seek and despite altering the starting line up on a weekly basis has yet to stumble across the mystical magic formula which would provide the team with a welcome three points.
This Sunday sees arch city rivals Hearts visit Easter Road barely a month after Hibs squandered the chance to confirm the Jam Tarts relegation when a similarly abject performance to that Paisley effort saw them lose 2-0 at Tynecastle.
Butcher and his assistant, Maurice Malpas, seem uncertain of their best starting X1 with continual changes, even recalling those such as Tom Taiwo and Kevin Thomson who were advised in January they were free to leave the club.
Hibs can ill afford to be dragged into the relegation play off spot where, results elsewhere dependent, they could find themselves prior to kick off on Sunday.
The lack of goals throughout the team is an obvious concern with James Collins the top scorer this season with 8 strikes but is far from being a natural finisher.
With the lack of goals up top Butcher would hope his midfield would chip in with a few but the only player with a consistent record of scoring from this area, Liam Craig, has been as guilty of poor performances this season as any other despite being handed the captain’s armband and subsequently dropped.
Defensively, the side have been a shambles in recent weeks, conceding eleven in 5 games and as a former top class centre half, Butcher should have been able to iron out the majority of the deficiencies, individual mistakes apart, since his arrival in November.
Stick or Twist
This of course leads us to the million dollar question? Should he stick with the experienced pro’s or give the out of favour, droped or youths, who’ve successfully won the East of Scotland First Division and sit top of the SPFL Under 20’s, a chance to impress.
With the defence leaking worse than the proverbial sieve, it’s surely time to change things despite Paul Hanlon being ruled out for the season.
Ryan McGivern, who’s had a torrid time at left back this season, has proved in the past he’s a decent centre half. He could easily replace the cumbersome Michael Nelson who, aimless hoofballs apart, offers nothing. This would allow McGivern to partner young Jordan Forster with Lewis Stevenson and Alan Maybury continuing in the full back positions.
Playing McGivern should also allow the back four to defend further up the park which given Nelson’s distinct lack of pace, is a problem other sides have clearly targeted.
Butcher’s favoured 5-4-1 formation is one he’s likely to stick rigidly to for the Derby but it could be time for a recall for Liam Craig who is usually a big game player.
The former St Johnstone star could return on the left hand side where he’s looked more comfortable than in the central role the Hibs gaffer has preferred to use him.
Tom Taiwo could also see himself reinstated after being dropped for Owain Tudor Jones for the Saints defeat with the Welshman doing his cause no favours with an ineffectual display.
Former Partick Thistle man Paul Cairney could also be looked at for a potential recall having found himself out the picture in the past few weeks.
Up front Jason Cummings simply has to start after an impressive half hour at St Mirren Park where he literally looked like the only player in green capable of troubling the keeper.
Both James McPake and Scott Robertson have returned to training with the former coming through 90 minutes of an under 20 game against Dunfermline on Tuesday night unscathed.
Whether or not the Derby has came around a week or so too soon is something which time will ultimately tell.
Youngsters in the mix?
Danny Handling started the last Derby at Tynecastle and while his effort can’t be faulted has yet to make the same impact at first team level as he does in the under 20 set up.
Another who started the last encounter against Hearts is Duncan Watmore, the on loan Sunderland winger, who’s 20 minute cameo against St Mirren showed he was back to full fitness and his trickery certainly caused the Paisley outfit’s back four a different problem to anything that had challenged them before.
Ryan Baptie and Andrew Black are two young full backs who are also knocking on the door of a first team spot and have been impressing observers of the Under 20 squad.
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