(image by @cartujakds)
So, let’s review where we are in life. Celtic are reigning champions of Scotland and currently sit on top of the SPL having played a game less than everyone else. We’ve also just qualified for the Champions League group stages for the first time in four years and can look forward to visiting Moscow, Barcelona and – the city of our greatest triumph – Lisbon while hosting football teams from those places in the caldron that is Celtic Park on a European night. We’ve done all of this thanks to a manager who never leaves anyone in any doubt that he is “one of us” and all on a budget that even keeps the suits happy. Meanwhile, across the city, our bitter city rivals have died through financial suicide and all that remains of them is a tribute band who managed to convince enough people to let them start life in Division Three.
Is anyone else wondering if this is all a dream? It doesn’t matter how many times I re-read that first paragraph it still astounds me that it’s factual. Growing up through the late 80s and early 90s I couldn’t have ever imagined that we would see such days. But here we are, so lets enjoy every second of it.
As far as Europe goes, the pressure is now off. We’re a pot 4 team at the moment so we are expected to finish bottom of our Champions League group. If we can even finish third and drop into the Europa League then we will have done better than expected. Neil Lennon thinks differently and says we’re there to top the group, and bhoy do I love him for that statement. That’s how I want the manager of Celtic to think! But we’ll come to the finer aspects of our ongoing Champions League participation after next week’s international break. Before that comes, however, there’s the small matter of a top of the table clash in the SPL.
Game four for us and game five for them, Hibernian are the visitors to Celtic Park with both teams currently sitting on seven points. The 3pm (10 ET, 7PT) Saturday start is a welcome change from the lunchtime starts in the Highlands that we’ve experienced of late, but if those visits were difficult given the timing and the notoriety of the venues then a recovering Hibernian at home will be an interestingly different prospect.
Hibs had a horrible season in 2011/12. Having only avoided relegation from the SPL with a game to spare ahead of Dunfermline Athletic, they then ended the season with a humiliating 5-1 defeat at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final to their own bitter city rivals. The wind ups from their neighbours over that scoreline are unlikely to fade any time soon given the increased stakes that day, so maybe they’ll be glad to come to Glasgow for a break. But then, they didn’t exactly have a good time against us last season either.
The last time Celtic faced Hibernian was at the end of the week that Rangers went into administration. The away end at Easter Road was a party from long before kick off, and with Celtic running out 5-0 winners on the pitch it was the perfect end to a wonderful week. The goals that day came from Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper in the first half, with second half goals coming from Charlie Mulgrew, Gary Hooper and one from Kris Commons bouncing the ball off Ki Sung Yeung. All of those kept the travelling support entertained whenever the party looked like it might be flagging.
Celtic’s other visits to Easter Road last season included a 2-0 opening day win thanks to Stokes and Ki, while in between those games there was a 4-1, James Forrest inspired, come from behind, second half hammering in the League Cup. However, the one and only match at Celtic Park just days after that cup game was a different story. Coming at the end of October and in the same week as the League Cup match, a 0-0 draw at home saw Celtic slip 12 points behind runaway leaders Rangers in the league. That gap would be 15 points by the time Celtic would next play a league match, but fortunately it was also to be Celtic’s last dropped points in the league until a trip to Pittodrie more than four months later.
Hibernian looked as if they might continue this season where they left off last season, as a 3-0 opening day defeat to Dundee United was the worst possible start. They must have feared the worst as the following week they hosted the first Edinburgh derby of the season but, despite gifting Hearts the opening goal of the game, Hibs fought back to earn themselves a 1-1 draw and ended a run of four straight defeats to their rivals. That seemed to spur Hibs on, and an away win to St Mirren followed by a home win against St Johnstone saw them catapult up the early league standings.
It is possible, however, that the good feeling at Easter Road has been wiped out this week after defeat in the League Cup to second division Queen of the South. Pat Fenlon had proclaimed prior to that match that Hibernian believed they could even go on and win the trophy, but then I can hardly criticise him for that if Neil Lennon is aiming for top spot in our Champions League group. Maybe the key here is to work your aims and your beliefs very carefully. Nevertheless, Hibernian will no doubt be looking to bounce back and continue their decent start to the SPL season instead.
Of course, that won’t be an easy task for them as they’ll be coming up against a Celtic team on a high. Hitting four goals for the first time in Inverness with several first-team regulars missing will have done wonders for the confidence. But that will pale into insignificance when compared with the high they will have earned for themselves on Wednesday night. The players know they will soon be playing with Europe’s elite and that will do wonders for their ego. Even on Twitter on Thursday night several of them were delighted to be getting to take the field with the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. It will now be up to Neil Lennon to keep their feet on the ground and ensure that the domestic job is done as professionally as possible.
After all, without the SPL title you can’t even get the chance to play in the Champions League.
Krys (twitter @krys1888 and for podcast updates @HHMParadiseRep)