Heart of Midlothian will make the journey north to Dingwall this afternoon for their final Premiership fixture before the international break, and Steven Naismith’s side will be looking to strengthen their grip on third.

The team’s previous trip to Ross County ended in a narrow 1-0 success, but there is a new man in charge now. Former Hearts midfielder Don Cowie is the third Staggies boss Naismith will face.

The Hearts head coach has a few decisions to make. Will he stick with the back four from Monday night’s 1-0 win away to Greenock Morton, or will the men in maroon revert to the back three that was so successful against Celtic? With Frankie Kent and Craig Halkett injured, who plays at centre-half? Who can step into Calem Nieuwenhof’s shoes, and who partners Lawrence Shankland up top?

Joel Sked and James Cairney talk us through their predicted line-ups below – and, as usual, the pair disagree over some big calls that Naismith has to make.

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Joel Sked

With the injuries to key players in the squad, it will be a case of 11 from a likely pool of 15. Decisions over Yutaro Oda and Scott Fraser's involvement were going to be taken after Friday's training. It means both will, at best, have a place on the bench.

Zander Clark will, we assume, come back in for Craig Gordon. Stephen Kingsley, Beni Baningime, Alex Cochrane and Lawrence Shankland are the other names that are almost certain to play.

A big decision, for me, centres around the back four or back three. A trend of late is for the back three to be used when the team are likely to see less of the ball than their opponents. However, in this case, I reckon the back three will be used because Hearts will dominate possession in Dingwall. Ross County could start with Simon Murray and Eamonn Brophy in attack. Neither are the most refined of strikers but they are forwards who are willing, will run the channels and look to stretch play. The Staggies won't be shy in playing back-to-front, less keen to play through the midfield, even more so if Yan Dhanda starts on the bench, as he did with his goal-scoring impact against Hibs during the week.

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Hearts will be enticed upfield whether it is a back three or back four. The former gives added protection and a more solid foundation when County try to spring forward. It also gets two mobile centre-backs on either side of the excellent Stephen Kingsley who is still on Steve Clarke's radar ahead of Euro 2024.

Cochrane and Dexter Lembikisa Lembikisa's inclusion is self-explanatory, while the midfield three has probably the best balance. Although it wouldn't be all that surprising if Aidan Denholm starts ahead of Jorge Grant or Aidan Denholm.

I've opted for Kenneth Vargas to start in attack. In reality, he is a more dangerous partner alongside Shankland, while Alan Forrest has played plenty of football this year. Equally, it is easy to see Forrest starting and Vargas being used off the bench as the game becomes stretched.

Predicted line-up: Clark; Sibbick, Kingsley, Rowles; Lembikisa, Devlin, Baningime, Grant, Cochrane; Shankland, Vargas.

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James Cairney

I think we’ll see Naismith stick with the back four this afternoon. In the last meeting between the two sides, a 2-2 draw at Tynecastle Park in December, Hearts set up in a 3-5-2 shape but it proved ineffective as County went two goals up. Hearts fared far better during the second half when Naismith changed the shape at the break to a 4-2-3-1 that verged on a 4-2-4 at times. They didn’t get the win that day, but offered far more going forward with the back four – and I think Naismith will follow that template in Dingwall this afternoon.

I expect Zander Clark will return in between the sticks after missing out on Monday night’s Scottish Cup quarter-final, but the question of who plays in central defence is a little less clear-cut. Kye Rowles and Toby Sibbick were both excellent in the win over Morton, and the Celtic game before that, but I feel that Stephen Kingsley is virtually undroppable at present, particularly with Kent out injured. I’d expect Sibbick to drop to the bench to make room for Kingsley, despite his good showings recently.

I think we’ll see Alex Cochrane back in the starting line-up and in his usual berth on the left of defence, and on the other side I think we’ll see Dexter Lembikisa. The on-loan Wolves defender is simply in better form than Nathaniel Atkinson, who hasn’t exactly set the heather alight recently.

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Beni Baningime will surely start at the base of midfield, and I think he’ll be joined in the centre by Cammy Devlin and Jorge Grant. Devlin played an important role in the win over Morton and deserves some more game time, while Grant is the only playmaker that Naismith has to call upon due to the injuries suffered by Scott Fraser and Barrie McKay.

The front three picks itself. Lawrence Shankland will lead the line, and he’ll be supported by Kenneth Vargas on the right and Alan Forrest on the left. Again, Naismith doesn’t have too many options here, but he won’t mind. After all, the trio have been Hearts’ most consistent attackers this season.

Predicted line-up: Clark; Lembikisa, Kingsley, Rowles, Cochrane; Baningime, Devlin, Grant; Vargas, Shankland, Forrest.