HIBERNIAN take on Dundee United at Tannadice this afternoon in the most intriguing tie of the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, in a fixture where both sets of supporters will fancy their chances of seeing their side progress to the next stage.

It isn't very often a team in the top six of the Premiership go into a match against Championship opposition with the prospect of defeat a very real possibility but then, Robbie Neilson's team are no ordinary second-tier outfit.

The runaway league leaders are champions-in-waiting in their division and have given every indication that they will not struggle to adapt to life in the top flight. United are, in essence, already a Premiership side which makes today's encounter in the City of Discovery all the more enticing.

It has been a mixed week for Hibernian. The news that Stevie Mallan faces around two months on the sidelines will have come as a blow to Jack Ross, but the capture of Stephane Omeonga - who spent the second half of last season at Easter Road - on loan is a major boost to the Leith club.


Midfield balance?

However, the injury to Mallan may very well be a blessing in disguise. Obviously, it is never nice to see any player spending a significant amount of time out injured but this may well work to Hibs' benefit. The midfield has been incredibly unbalanced all season and Mallan is perhaps more emblematic of this than any other player; wasteful on the ball and ineffective off of it, the former St Mirren man has struggled to pull his weight this campaign.

The arrival of Omeonga is massive for Hibs. The energetic box-to-box midfielder was an excellent addition last season and is exactly what the Easter Road side have been missing this campaign. The industry that Omoenga provides is exactly what Ross' side have been crying out for, and a midfield trio of Omeonga, Melker Hallberg and Scott Allan looks far more balanced and well-suited to Premiership football than what Hibs have had so far.

Kamberi's place under threat

Ross has experimented with a front pairing of Florian Kamberi and Christian Doidge since replacing Paul Heckingbottom but Kamberi's days in the starting line-up may be numbered. The Swiss forward hasn't been at his best for some time now and if Ross was to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation - with Martin Boyle and Daryl Horgan on either wing - then Kamberi is the most likely casualty, given Doidge's recent upturn in form.


The 2-0 win over Hearts at Tynecastle on Boxing Day was one of the most complete performances that Hibs have produced this season, and it was a match where Kamberi was conspicuously absent. Playing with a lone striker - even if it means dropping Kamberi to the bench - might be the best way forward for Hibs.

United can prove Premiership credentials

For Dundee United, today's fixture represents the greatest barometer yet to see just how far the Tayside club have come, and it will be fascinating to see how Neilson's side compare when facing top-flight opposition. They are unbeaten in their last 12 fixtures - a run that stretches back to October - and have drawn just one of those, against their rivals Dundee.

All eyes will be on Lawrence Shankland, whose detractors claim that the Scotland internationalist remains untested against quality opposition. A goal or a strong performance today from the former Ayr United frontman would go a long way to silencing those critics - and with QPR director of football Les Ferdinand in attendance today, a goalscoring display could be enough to convince the English Championship outfit to test United's resolve with a bid for their star striker.