Another international break is behind us. The bad news is that there’s another one coming next month. The good news for us fans, but perhaps the bad news for the players, is that Celtic now have no fewer than seven games to fit in to that period.
We must be the only domestic football setup in Europe that seems to start early, finish late, and still have to cram games into short period of time.
It’s not even easy games either! There’s a double header in Europe, a League Cup semi final and a league game against the current league leaders, an away trip to Dundee to face a team with a new manager, an away trip to Livingston who have changed their manager since we played them to great effect, and of course we have today’s match against the other team currently above us in the league.
Neil Lennon’s Hibernian.
This will be an extremely difficult match. It’s not just that Hibernian are currently second in the league having taken a point more from their first eight games than us.
Last season saw two draws and a narrow home victory each in the league. Our last meeting was there narrow 2-1 victory at Easter Road, while our narrow 1-0 victory came in the last meeting at Celtic Park. Both draws saw the game finish 2-2, the first of those had Hibernian leading 2-1 at Celtic Park whilst the second saw Lustig clear the ball off the line right at the death to ensure our record unbeaten run lasted just a little while longer.
Even the League Cup semi final between the two teams last season was pretty close. 4-2 was the final score, but we were pegged back to 2-1 and 3-2 and were never really comfortable until that late fourth goal went in.
Indeed, across Scotland, Hibernian have probably been Celtic’s trickiest opponent since Brendan Rodgers joined Celtic. We didn’t face them in his first season and every game in his second season was close and hard fought. Even Hearts and Kilmarnock, the teams that have beaten Brendan Rodgers side more than once, have both been humped in that time too.
All credit then to Neil Lennon. It’s just typical that it’s our former manager and captain that should give us our biggest problems. But it’s nice to see him doing so well there. Maybe not against us of course!
It’s interesting to note that both Celtic and Hibernian had a thumping 6-0 win last time out before the international break. Hibernian, as they’ll no doubt love to tell you because it’s probably their favourite phrase towards us, “did it first”. They beat Hamilton 6-0 at Easter Road on the Saturday.
So of course ours was even better as it was away from home. James Forrest and Tom Rogic were unplayable in getting the former four first half goals, while Callum McGregor and Odsonne Edouard got in on the scoring act as well.
It’s funny, if Leigh Griffiths has been sharper then it could have been even more. Fair play to Leigh for dropping out of the Scotland squad to work on that fitness, and credit to him for doing it properly and talking it over with the national team manager.
Certainly lanky streaks of urine across the city could learn a thing or two about respect from Leigh.
Unfortunately, Griffiths may have done it for nothing as illness has struck him down and may see him miss out on the game against his boyhood heroes. Which is frustrating since it was Griffiths that got the only goal in that 1-0 victory over Hibernian that I mentioned earlier.
Today is an opportunity for us to continue moving up the table. The 6-0 win at St Johnstone moved us up to third thanks to the goal difference boost, and a win over Hibernian would move us ahead of our opponents too. Should Aberdeen somehow win at Tynecastle then we could even go top of the league today, but that may well depend on whether Hearts recover from the blow of their own awful defending at Ibrox as well as the other blow of losing another two key players to injuries.
But we’ll come back to Hearts ourselves soon enough. For now it’s their city rivals we have to focus on. The 6-0 win was great to see, but now we have to go out and show that performance wasn’t just a one off. We want to show that’s how Celtic can and will play more often than not.
We’ll certainly have to work for it. Despite a very leaky start to the season they haven’t conceded a goal in four games, one of which even went to extra time and penalties and they still didn’t concede. That is also the only domestic game where they’ve failed to score and only Molde in three rounds of Europa League qualifying managed to stop them scoring aside from that.
This is sure to be an entertaining match, but hopefully it’s also one where Celtic come out on top. Just don’t expect any favours from them, we haven’t had any from Neil Lennon’s men so far. They’re not about to start now, especially when their own rivals are ahead of them in the league!
No one wants to be second in their own city.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)