Here, Press Association Sport’s Andy Newport looks at the five big talking points ahead of the last-four duel.
Who is the form team?
Ah, good question. If you are looking back across the whole season, then you have got to place the favourites tag on Hibs. But if you prefer to study the teams’ recent results, then it really is a 50-50 call. Alan Stubbs’ Leith outfit have suffered a pretty spectacular loss of momentum, with their promotion hopes now hanging in the balance after picking up just one win in their last eight Ladbrokes Championship fixtures. United have improved since Mixu Paatelainen’s early days at Tanndaice but the fight ran out on Saturday as they lost to Inverness, leaving them hopelessly adrift at the bottom of the Premiership with a 12-point chasm separating them from safety.
Hibs have already beaten United this season – does that tell us something?
Yes and no. The Easter Road side were as impressive as the Tangerines were shocking that night back in November as they claimed a 3-0 League Cup quarter-final triumph. The Taysiders are one of five top-flight sides Hibs have dumped out of cup competitions this term but the January signing of Anthony Stokes on loan from Celtic seems to have backfired on Stubbs with the balance of his side badly disrupted. United on the other hand are unquestionably a better-drilled outfit than they were five months ago. Paatelainin has made changes in personnel, while the return of skipper Paul Paton from injury has added bite to the Finn’s midfield. However, lapses of concentration and the Tannadice squad’s questionable heart are ultimately the reason for their impending relegation.
Who will start between the sticks for Hibs?
This is the big conundrum for the Hibs boss. He complained bitterly about the time-wasting yellow card Oxley received in the quarter-final replay win over Inverness that now rules him out of the Hampden clash with suspension, probably because he knew he was lacking in decent cover. Otso Virtanen, a 22-year-old Finn, has filled the understudy spot on the bench for most of the season but has he has only managed two minutes of first-team action after being thrown on late against Caley Thistle – and even then, he did not look utterly convincing. Former Leicester stopper Conrad Logan was brought in last month but the 29-year-old has not played a meaningful fixture since December, 2014. It is a headache Stubbs could do without.
Mixu Paatelainen is not without selection concerns of his own, is he?
No. The Finn this week jettisoned defender Gavin Gunning from his squad following the bizarre episode during Saturday’s defeat to Inverness, where the injured Gunning picked the ball up before walking off the field to seek treatment. The club insist there is more to his “mutually agreed” exit than that, but it is certainly the last thing the manager needs right now, especially with another of his centre-backs Mark Durnan suspended for the semi-final. Veteran Irishman Sean Dillon will likely be called in to fill the gap but he has not had a season to remember.
How is the new Hampden pitch looking?
On the surface, it was looking lush when Press Association Sport examined in on Thursday. But that’s the issue. While it may look good on top, there are real concerns it will not have had the time required to bed down having only been installed on Monday, leaving both sets of players at risk to serious injury if the turf starts churning up in the heat of battle. Neither Stubbs nor Paatelainen seemed desperate to add to the war of words surrounding the issue when they faced the media this week but expect them to be more than happy to hit out after Saturday’s match if one of their star men comes a cropper on the patched-up pitch.
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