When Heart of Midlothian face Hibs at Tynecastle Park on Wednesday, they will be looking to do something for the first time since the middle of December. Bounce back from a defeat.

After 12 games unbeaten in all competitions, including wins away at Celtic and Hibs, Steven Naismith's men came unstuck at Ibrox on Saturday in what turned out to be a pretty chastening experience, going down 5-0 in Govan for the third time since the 2019/20 season. 

Naismith's message will be one of taking the key learnings from the loss, moving on and getting back on track, rather than any drastic changes. 

What could be the key elements or decisions that can see Hearts emerge victorious in the derby once more?

READ MORE: Why Hearts v Hibs is not on TV - and how it could change (slightly) next season

Starting quick

"Ideally, we will start Wednesday's game like Rangers started on Saturday," Steven Naismith told the Evening News

Now, as well as Hearts have been doing in recent months, fast starts in the league have been few and far between. The team have still not scored in the first half of a league match since before Christmas. We have explored the reasons behind the first and second-half contrast with the team getting better as the match progresses, opponents begin to open up or the game gets stretched while Naismith has shown himself as a very good in-game manager.

But, in general, the lack of goals in the first half is a concern.

Hearts fans will want to see a quick start from their side. Not only because it would be a reaction from Saturday's defeat to Rangers but also because that is what the Tynecastle Park faithful expect. Several factors, however, come into play, from something as little as who gets to kick off to how the opposition set up and approach the game.

Naturally, in a derby, the game often begins at a frantic pace, as it did in the previous meeting between the sides at Easter Road when Hearts should have taken an early lead from the penalty spot, while Hibs are unlikely to sit off the home side in the way the likes of Motherwell, Dundee and Ross County would.

It is a game where Hearts, initially, can priortise getting the ball forward and turning the Hibs defence over control.

Making it uncomfortable

In conjunction with the quick start, the home side should be aiming to make it as uncomfortable as possible for Nick Montgomery's side in the opening stages. The visitors could have five or six players who joined in the summer in their starting XI with a few who have since been added in January. It will be a new experience for the recent arrivals and perhaps one that is an eye-opener, under the lights at Tynecastle with the fans on top of you and the ball flying about.

The aim should be to make it a suffocating experience where the opposition barely have time to catch a breath in the first 10-15 minutes. Play direct, take free-kicks and throw-ins quickly and get the crowd onside and up for the occasion. If you look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Hibs side, the defence is an area where they didn't upgrade during the transfer window with some of the individuals having tough moments in derbies at Tynecastle in the past.

If Hearts get an early goal then continue to press that advantage rather than settling into the game and looking for control. That comes later. 

READ MORE: The many warnings Hearts failed to heed in sobering Rangers defeat

The formation of choice

A consequence of the last two results has seen fans consign the back three to the dustbin. It has involved plenty of revisionism. Admittedly, it is a system that has not been as effective in recent weeks but it should be noted that Hearts' form picked up following the switch from a back four to a three. In turn, the team looked more robust and solid.

That being said, a 4-3-3 system or 4-2-3-1 brings more attacking width and pace higher up the pitch. And it is why it should be the preferred system for the derby if the team want to start on the front foot, play aggressively and make it uncomfortable for the Hibs backline, pinning them back.

While it can certainly be argued he is best playing centrally, Kenneth Vargas and Alan Forrest on either side will give the team directness and plenty of work rate. In recent weeks we have seen both move in field and get support from attacking full-backs.

Equally, it is important Hearts don't over-commit considering the pace Hibs have in their attack, meaning a balance needs to be sought. But for a fast start while making it as uncomfortable as possible for Hibs, the four in defence and three in attack is likely the best way forward.

Making most of set pieces

Hibs have uncovered somewhat of an Achilles heel in recent weeks. Since the turn of the year, they have conceded six goals from set pieces (including one from a long throw against Dundee). The majority of the goals have come from the second phase where they have managed to deal with the first contact but failed with the second.

It is an area where Hearts are much improved with seven goals from set pieces this season. Only Dundee have scored more.

READ MORE: Steven Naismith confirms Hearts star will miss the derby - and explains issue

Craig Gordon decision

Firstly, Zander Clark's performance against Rangers. It came under scrutiny from fans. On reflection, the Hearts No.1 may feel disappointed with one of the five goals: Fabio Silva's fifth strike that he got down to, got his hand to the ball but it wasn't a strong enough palm to keep it out.

There was little he could have done with goals two and four. Goal number three was a difficult one that he couldn't have claimed due to the trajectory of the cross. As for the first goal, it was great play from Mohamed Diomande rather than poor goalkeeping. The Rangers midfielder shifted it to his left and Clark moved to the left to get a better view but just as he was setting himself Diomande rifled a shot back across him. It was a difficult situation.

Are we advocating dropping Clark? No. It would be an incredibly harsh decision going by the last couple of months of consistent performances where he has barely put a foot wrong. However, the benefit of giving Craig Gordon his first start in the league could be considered with the psychological impact it would have. If you were a Hibs player or fan and looked at the line-up to see the Hearts goalkeeping legend between the stick it would likely prompt a sigh. Not of relief but resignation. 

The expectation is for Clark to start, and understandably so, but Naismith has spoken about keeping both goalkeepers happy and dismissed the idea that it is one goalkeeper for the league and one for the cup.

Lawrence Shankland

Let's face it, the player Hibs and their fans will be most concerned about is Lawrence Shankland. Even in a game where he was on the periphery at the weekend, the striker was still close to finding the back of the net, his header coming back off the post. He is always likely to score. As he proved in the previous meetings between the sides.

Only twice this campaign has he failed to score in back-to-back games. There was the much-publicised eight-game drought between the end of August and the start of October. And then, more recently, he didn't score in the 1-0 defeat at home to Rangers and the 1-0 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. However, in the latter game he all but did by setting up the winning goal which was an own goal.

He loves playing against Hibs. Of his 53 strikes for Hearts since joining the club in the summer of 2022, five have come in the Edinburgh derby.