The 1-1 home draw with St Johnstone after our long trip to Kazakhstan is the only blip in an otherwise flawless start to the domestic season. The fact it was a draw means our unbeaten run remains intact, and has since extended to 57 matches.
But interestingly not one of those came against our next opponents, Hibernian.
Losing out to Queen of the South in the League Cup and Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup last season meant that the then Championship side never faced us at all last season. The season before, they were waiting for us in the final of both Cup competitions, only for us to fail to get past either of our semi final opponents. We both lost in the Scottish Cup semi final in 2014/15, and they lost to the team we beat in the final, Dundee United, in the League Cup that season.
All of that means that, thanks to their three seasons outside the top flight, we haven’t actually faced Hibernian since January 2014.
Which is interesting if only because the manager in the away dugout later today was the manager in our dugout that day.
Neil Lennon’s Celtic were in the middle of a long period of not conceding goals when we travelled to Easter Road and won 4-0 courtesy of two goals from Kris Commons and one each from Virgil van Dijk and Teemu Pukki. Pukki was also on the scoresheet on Hibernian’s last visit to Celtic Park back in December 2013, in a 1-0 win.
Hibernian went on to relegation via defeat in the Premiership playoff to Hamilton Accies at the end of that season while Lennon called it a day after we had clinched a third league title on a row but failed to win either of the two cups. We’d already lost to Morton in the League Cup, and just a couple for weeks after that last win over Hibernian we lost in the Scottish Cup to Aberdeen. It was also Aberdeen who ended our unbeaten league run that season, and so it was an unremarkable end to Lennon’s largely successful time as Celtic manager.
Lennon went on to manage Bolton Wanderers for eighteen months, but that was a thankless task as after barely keeping them in the Championship at the end of his first season there was still no resources to strengthen and they struggled again the following season, eventually going down to League One – but by then Lennon was long gone.
If that wasn’t difficult enough, Lennon then had to follow Alan Stubbs at Hibernian. The man who had finally guided them to their first Scottish Cup triumph in 114 years departed for Rotherham and gave Lennon a return to Scottish football with one aim in mind – get out of the Championship. That they did, and so now we have the highly unusual situation of seeing a former Celtic manager in the away dugout.
I’m almost positive this has never happened before. Former players, certainly, but never a former manager. Not unless you count Martin O’Neill bringing his Ireland side to face Gordon Strachan’s Scotland side who were using Celtic Park as their home that night! Your only other option beyond that are charity games.
I’m sure Lennon will get a warm reception before the game, but once we get down to business he’s still an opponent and will be treated as such – albeit with respect.
And they are bound to be a tricky opponent for us. If anyone knows how to set up a team to frustrate an opponent that revels in possession and will likely bombard your goal, then it’s the man who masterminded a 2-1 win over Barcelona!
Lennon’s Hibernian have had an odd start to the season. After a winning return to the top flight against Partick Thistle, they then won against another Glasgow team at Ibrox the following week. They’ll be looking to compete a Glasgow treble today, but after that win at Ibrox it all went a bit pear shaped.
First they lost at home to Hamilton, then drew three in a row against Dundee, St Johnstone and Motherwell. They finally got back to winning ways in the league last week at Ross County, their first league clean sheet of the season, and that was enough to lift them up to fourth in the table.
It’s a different story in the League Cup though, where a quarter final win over Livingston saw them drawn against us on the semi final. So this is actually the first of two games in the coming weeks between the two sides. Making up for lost time perhaps.
It’s not just Lennon that’s facing his old club though. Efe Ambrose now plays at the back for Hibernian, while Anthony Stokes will no doubt be a threat to our unbeaten run as well as our four game run of clean sheets. Dylan McGeouch is the third former Celt in their squad, but other names like Steven Whittaker and John McGinn will interest those who keep any eye on the Scottish national team.
Mind you, two names that are of interest to Scotland fans won’t feature today. Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong have both been ruled out of Scotland’s double header and so will also miss this game. Who knows, maybe Callum McGregor will come in and actually be noticed by Gordon Strachan as a replacement!
Looking back at the Hibernian side, there is of course Simon Murray. He got off to a great start scoring for fun in the League Cup group stages, and certainly started the league campaign the same way too. His goals seem to have dried up for now, but he’s still been a threat in most of the games he’s played.
It’s perhaps fitting that we play Hibernian this weekend though, as once again Celtic will mark National Famine Memorial Day with the logo on our strips. Given the effect it had on Ireland, and the reason for the club’s founding, it’s nice that this year we’re facing another club with Irish roots and one that had a big influence on that founding.
After a wonderful away result in the Champions League in midweek, it would be a shame if we didn’t end the week with a victory. But you can be sure Lennon, Stokes and Ambrose will be professional and put any sense of homecoming to one side. We’ll need to ensure we don’t let them have it their way.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)