Hibs Aim To Consolidate Top Spot
Easter Road Stadium
Saturday 4th February
Hibs welcome Ayr United to Easter Road in the Scottish Championship as they seek to consolidate top spot in the table.
Currently sitting eight points clear of nearest challengers Dundee United, Neil Lennon's side are seeking revenge on the Somerset Park side after the Honest Men inflicted the Hibees only home league defeat of the campaign with a slightly fortuitous victory back in September.
The 2-1 win was secured after Hibs lost Marvin Bartley to a controversial red card, one which was overturned on appeal, however it happened with the Easter Road side leading and a lack of concentration allowed Conrad Balatoni and Brian Gilmour to overturn Jason Cummings 50th minute strike.
Hibs will take some solace in their performance in the return match played in November whereby a dominant display saw them cruise to a 3-0 win thanks to a double from Martin Boyle and a fine John McGinn effort.
The clash sees first play ninth in the table and the league leaders are going into the game on the back of an unbeaten eight match run whilst the visitors haven't recorded a victory on Championship duty since defeating Queen of the South at the tail end of October; a run of some 12 bread and butter games.
Neil Lennon: "I'm very much looking forward to getting back onto home turf. It has been a while, almost a month. Hopefully we can replicate our last performance. "The atmosphere that night was the best I'd experienced at Easter Road. The fans were unbelievable, so we're looking for more of the same. "We can't go into the game with any complacency, Ayr have beaten us this season. It's a dangerous game, but it's one with great incentives for us as well."
United boss Ian McCall: "We thoroughly enjoyed our last visit to Easter Road, its the reason we worked so hard to get promoted to play in stadiums like this. It`s a great place to play football, there will be a big crowd and a great atmosphere so we want to enjoy it and put in a really good performance. It will be incredibly difficult, they have a squad that would probably be top 6 in the Premiership so it shows the task we have in front of us however we have done it before so there is nothing to say we cant get a result. They might be outnumbered but our fans will make plenty of noise so hopefully we will give them another reason to celebrate."
Hibernian Team News:
Definitely ruled out for Hibs are goalkeeper Ofir Marciano who is still sidelined after colliding with Liam Fontaine in the recent 8-1 Scottish Cup victory over Bonnyrigg Rose and Paul Hanlon who is to undergo pelvic surgery following a reaction to a cortisone injection.
Fringe men Alex Harris and Danny Handling are still not match fit but midfield powerhouse Marvin Bartley returns after suspension.
Player to watch: John McGinn
The Scotland international started his first league match since returning from surgery on his ankle in last week's victory over Queen of the South and impressed throughout the 90 minutes, scoring the winning goal on his comeback.
He'll look forward to getting another full game under his belt prior to next weekend's massive Edinburgh Derby.
Ayr United Team News:
Ayr report no injury worries for the clash and are likely to include new boy Declan McDaid, signed after his release from Patrick Thistle on deadline day, in their line up.
Player to watch: Conrad Balatoni
The former Hearts youth will be a pivotal figure if United are to get anything from the match.
Plenty of top flight experience with Patrick Thistle and Kilmarnock, the experienced defender surprisingly dropped a division to sign for Killie's local rivals last summer.
Match Facts & Stats
Hibs lead the overall head to head between the clubs by 52 wins to 28 with 19 draws.
This season is the first time since 1998/99 the two sides have met on league duty when Hibs won three and drew the other match. In between the sides have met on Cup duty with Ayr winning a League Cup semi final 1-0 in 2002 and a Scottish Cup fourth round replay (2011) 2-0 with Hibs victors in a League Cup third round tie (2006) 2-1 en route to winning the trophy and also winning 2-0 at Somerset Park in 2012 in the Scottish Cup sixth round in a run which ended in Final despair against Hearts.
Can't see anything bar a comfortable home win. Hibs 3 Ayr United 0
Hibs face the ultimate test in their defence of the Scottish Cup when they travel to Tynecastle to face arch rivals Hearts next Sunday, kick off 12:30.