Celtic welcome a football team to Celtic Park on Sunday. After a season to date that’s seen more buses parked than Buchanan Street, it will be a welcome change to have a visiting team come to Parkhead with the intention to cross the halfway line now and again.
Jack Ross will bring his high flying and highly entertaining Hibernian side for a Sunday afternoon encounter hoping to head back along the M8 with not only three points but also the plaudits for their performance. It will be up to Celtic to find a way to inflict defeat on the Edinburgh side who have lost only once in eight games. It should make for a good game to watch.
Like many Scottish clubs this season the Covid impact has seen a large turnaround in playing staff, Hibs are no different. Ross has let 13 players leave Easter Road so far, some of whom were a bit of a surprise.
Only six have arrived but those who have joined indicate Ross knows how to maximise the quality available within his limited budget. He’s been very canny indeed.
Of those heading out the door the most surprising was probably winger Darryl Horgan heading south to Championship new boys Wycombe and the least so Florian Kamberi returning to Swiss football with St Gallen, having burned his bridges with an ill-advised loan move and proclamation of support to ‘the’ Rangers.
Other notable exits have been goalkeeper Adam Bogdan with a move to Ferencvaros, the ageing Steven Whittaker to Dunfermline Athletic and the underrated but rather inconsistent midfielder Vykintas Slivka moving to Apollon Smyrnis. Some high profile exits indeed however it’s worth noting many of those would have been high earners and not necessarily delivering value week in week out.
Hibs have also chosen not to extend loan deals into permanent moves for the likes of Stephane Omeonga who returned to Genoa, defensive midfielder Greg Doherty moved back to ‘the Rangers and full back Jason Naismith to Peterborough United. While Striker and Scottish international Marc McNulty also returned to Reading.
Jack Ross has maximised his budget however with the signing of some of Scotland’s more talented players and also Jamie Murphy on a free transfer from ‘the’ Rangers.
Entertaining winger Drey Wright has signed from St Johnstone and the superbly talented striker Kevin Nisbet was a fine piece of business, as the young forward signed on an undisclosed fee basis from Dunfermline. Stephen McGinn has trodden the familiar path for the McGinn brothers and joined Ross via St Mirren and Alex Gogic brings some necessary midfield discipline having signed from Hamilton Accies. A back up keeper has seen Dillon Barnes also come in on loan from Queen Park Rangers.
The Season so far
Hibs showed signs last year under Ross that they were a building a team with an attacking identity, their Achilles heel was defending and so far, Ross appears to have used time on the training field rather than the transfer market to shore things up, though their weaknesses remain there.
Hibs opened the season with a 2-1 win against Kilmarnock with two first half goals from their speedy wide man Martin Boyle, who has recently signed a new contract following extensive interest from other clubs including Celtic. They followed that opening day win with a thumping 4-1 win on Livingston’s plastic pitch – no mean feat as Celtic know – with a hat-trick from summer signing Nisbet and another from strike partner Christian Doidge.
Doidge then scored the only goal of the game as Hibs notched up a third straight win with a 1-0 victory over Dundee United at Tannadice, before dropping their first points of the season with a goalless draw at home to Motherwell.
They were back to winning ways when a controversial injury time penalty from Stevie Mallan saw them leave McDiarmid Park with a hard fought win over St Johnstone, before a first defeat of the season Saw Hibs lose 1-0 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie, in a game that saw them get nothing and deserve little more, as a Lewis Ferguson penalty saw Ross outthought tactically for the first time this season.
That defeat hasn’t seen them lose their confidence though and Hibs returned to winning ways with an impressive away win by three goals to nil against St Mirren. They followed that up with a 2-2 draw against their rivals for second place ‘Rangers’, in a performance that saw them lead, fall behind and recover to claim a draw in a game they more than matched their opponents, who hadn’t conceded a goal all season up to last Sunday’s lunchtime fixture. This time Drey Wright and Christian Doidge supplied the goals.
How they shape up
Hibs mainly utilise two formations, a flat 3-5-2 that they used in their opening fixture and a 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders and two wide players supplying Nisbet and Doidge. It’s open, entertaining and attacking. They have switched between the two formations during games and its clear Ross intends to stick to a couple of set-ups to get his side used to moving between the two.
The Hibs manager certainly doesn’t over complicate the teams shape but there are clearly defined roles and instructions to follow. Despite being a team who are set out to entertain and attack, they are a side who are expected to remain disciplined positionally.
Given Celtic have switched to a back three in recent weeks it may well be from the start tomorrow Ross will match up with his own 3-5-2, however he will be aware that he can gamble on having his two wide players push up and revert to a 4-4-2 and exploit the gaps behind Celtic’s wing backs and the central defenders down the flanks.
Ross may start looking to get a foothold in the game but as he did against ‘the’ Rangers last Sunday he won’t be scared to change things and sacrifice a central midfielder to have a go at Celtic should the need arise.
One to watch
Kevin Nisbet is the man Celtic need to be wary of. The striker has hit the goal trail already this season and four goals and two assists from only six games played show that he’s adapting well to the higher level having moved from Championship football last season.
At that level Nisbet scored 18 in 25 and 23 goals in 32 games in all competitions. Nisbet has exceptional awareness, a good first touch and fashions space well to get his shots off. He has a good ability to draw defenders tight to him and turn them and at the moment is playing with confidence, always the main asset for any striker.
Celtic will need to decide who will pick the danger man up. With Ajer and Jullien sometimes lacking in a little tactical nous, it may be a job for Shane Duffy to curb Nisbet’s enthusiasm with a robust introduction to the Celtic defence.
One to target
Ryan Porteous is a sought-after central defender and he has some decent abilities, he is also a player who loses focus and concentration. Paul Hanlon beside him may not get the plaudits and may lack the raw ability of Porteous but he is a lot more developed in the tactical side of his game and seems more tuned into his defensive discipline.
Porteous struggles with movement of the opposition, interchange of play and tends to switch off at times from his defensive responsibilities, as he gets caught up the peripheral aspects of the game. He is also prone to dive in early as well as ball watch and Celtic can take advantage. Whether that’s Edouard’s movement or Ajeti’s quick thinking, either or both could give Porteous too much to think and thinking is far from the Hibs defender’s strength.
An open and entertaining game
After watching a Riga team on Thursday night defend their 18-yard line as if they were defending a siege on their City, it will be a different proposition Celtic will face from Hibs on Sunday. They will come out to play, they will engage Celtic’s defence and try to exploit the work in progress that is Celtic’s backline.
Martin Boyle will be as dangerous as ever and young Josh Doig is a full back who loves to get forward. They will try and supply Kevin Nisbet with the ammunition he is capable of discharging and if they play Doidge alongside the former Pars striker, they have a player, though much maligned, is a goal threat and disruptor.
Celtic however can hurt Hibs. The full back areas are weak defensively and the central defence can be moved around. Moving the ball at pace, interchanging passes and positions quickly would be to Celtic’s advantage. It will all be about starting with and maintaining a high tempo and keep Hibs forced back, where their lack of concentration will lead to errors at the back.
With Celtic playing a 3-5-1-1 of late it may be a game to sacrifice Olivier Ntcham or Ryan Christie and let Edouard drop deep and play Ajeti as a number 9 and revert to a two strikers’ approach. If this game between two attacking teams comes down to firepower and taking chances, it could be vital to have two strikers with the ability to put the ball in the net. Edouard and Ajeti in tandem could be too much for the Hibs backline to cope with for 90 minutes.
It should be a really good game of football to watch on Sunday and a welcome change from teams terrified to engage Celtic and in turn the Celts struggling to break them down. This could be a high scoring encounter and with Celts coughing up the odd goal it will come down to outgunning Hibs.
I’d back Celtic to take advantage of the space to play and Hibs to score a goal or two to boot. Celtic can win this 4-2 and could see Shane Duffy taking advantage of a Ryan Porteous switch off moment to score with a header.
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