Three out of four of our games are against St Johnstone. We’ve played two of those and won them both 2-0, but tonight is the other game.
Hibernian are the visitors to Celtic Park and they are a team currently in turmoil, a far cry from Neil Lennon’s men that deservedly beat us 2-0 at Easter Road back in December.
Since beating us then they’ve only won one other league game and that was away to St Mirren a week and a half ago. They lost to Aberdeen at home at the weekend, continued their unbeaten record at Ibrox with a 1-1 draw just days after getting the same result at home to them, lost the Edinburgh derby, lost to Motherwell and drew with Livingston.
They did beat Elgin City in the Scottish Cup, but you never get any praise for that kind of expected result.
But the biggest news is what has happened off the park. Neil Lennon wasn’t in charge of the first team for the win over St Mirren, and by the time they faced Aberdeen both Lennon and Gary Parker had left the club. They weren’t suspended or sacked, they didn’t quit, it was just agreed that the contracts should end.
Rumours were abound. Had there been a training ground incident? Had Lennon lost the dressing room? Did Lennon and Leeann Dempster have a heated discussion? I have absolutely no idea, but clearly something happened for the relationship to deteriorate so badly that the lawyers were in to draft the statement saying nothing bad had happened by they were away.
Names for Lennon’s replacement have been banded around in recent days. Gordon Strachan was one early suggestion which would have been interesting. It’s not often a former Celtic manager comes to face his old club, I’m pretty sure only Davie Hay had managed a team against Celtic after managing Celtic himself prior to Lennon, but that would have seen one replace another! But it looks like that was all talk.
Paul Heckingbottom seems to be one name heavily linked with the job, while Jim Magilton is another. But regardless of who Hibernian do eventually get in, they won’t be in charge in time for tonight’s match so it will once again be former Falkirk manager Eddie May that is reluctantly in charge of the team.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a caretaker manager so vehemently state that he doesn’t want the job full time like I did when May was interviewed before the St Mirren match. He’s been there, he’s done that, and it’s nice to hear at least one May know when a job is too big for them and they are in over their head.
Hello there Prime Minister.
The results that Hibernian have had lately has seen them slip down the table to the point that they are now within touching distance of Livingston and Motherwell. No danger of relegation, but they do seem like they’re almost inevitably going to be in the bottom six this season now. That’s some turnaround from a team who were flying high on the coattails of their Edinburgh rivals earlier in the season and were seemingly scoring goals for fun.
If I knew precisely why Hibernian had slumped so badly I would probably be applying for the vacant role myself, but I’m not a football manager and so I’ll have to leave that particular thought up to those that are.
But I am a football fan, and I know that funny things can happen in the game. Hibernian might just turn in a performance that kick starts their revival tonight. We all know they’re more than capable of giving us a game. After all, not only have they beaten us at Easter Road this season, but the 4-2 victory over them at Celtic Park in October was a game where both teams got plaudits for playing some wonderful attacking football.
Those four goals for us came from Tom Rogic, Olivier Ntcham and two from Odsonne Edouard. There is, however, a good chance that none of those players will feature tonight. Rogic is definitely out until March, Ntcham is coming back from injury and may not be fit yet, and Edouard was stretchered off after a studs up challenge inside the penalty area at the weekend.
No penalty of course, all the penalties in Scotland were used up by Andrew Dallas the previous day. Besides, it’s only a free kick for that outside of the box, I know this because Andy Walker told us all on Sky so it must be true, right?
In the same move, Ryan Christie was tackled at waist height and as we all know that’s fair game as well. Or at least it was when Clint Hill did it to Leigh Griffiths at the end of a Glasgow derby, so I’m guessing that hasn’t changed. That challenge did injury Christie’s ribs though, so he’s another doubt today.
On top of those four, James Forrest who once again scored at McDiarmid Park went off feeling his hamstring, Mikael Lustig was replaced at half time with an injury, Filip Benkovic is out until March, Kieran Tierney is back training but only on his own at the moment, and Kristoffer Ajer is now suspended after stopping a not so obvious goalscoring opportunity at the end of the game on Sunday.
However, Dedryck Boyata might be back fit and possibly ready for today. So that might be just the timely boost we need with the European tie against Valencia on the horizon after we play St Johnstone yet again, this time in the Scottish Cup.
Whatever team we put out will have to try and stop Florian Kamberi making in three goals in three games against us. They’ll have to stop Oli Shaw being a threat. They’ll have to do better than last time when we conceded to Vykintas Slivka in the opening minute.
But there is hope of that. We haven’t conceded a goal in 2019 yet, and Scott Bain hasn’t exactly been quiet during that time. He’s proving himself to be Celtic’s current number one, keeping Craig Gordon out of the team with his form. It might frustrate Gordon, but the longer he can do that then the better it will be for us. He might have had a little bit of luck with those clean sheets at times as well, certainly Tony Watt had a terrific chance to score at the weekend in what was one of possible three great chances for St Johnstone, but sometimes you need that luck as well.
It’s always important for us to try and win, especially at home where out 100% domestic record remains intact, but when the game comes on the same night as the teams in second and third playing each other then you know you have a chance to put some distance between you and at least one of those teams. It happened a couple of weeks ago with Kilmarnock won and we were able to go three points clear by beating St Mirren, hopefully we can manage something similar tonight depending on what happens at Pittodrie.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)