Hibs v Celtic – A reassuringly confident Neil Lennon ahead of his return to Easter Road

It seems like an age since Celtic defeated Motherwell 4-1 at Fir Park on 8 November, as Celtic’s stop-start season has yet again been interrupted by an International break, albeit a historic one for Celtic’s Scottish contingent, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Lee Griffiths and Greg Taylor.

All four will be returning brimming with confidence after Scotland secured a first major finals place since 1998, and it is players high on confidence and hopefully not overly fatigued that we’ll need for this weekend’s massively important Premiership match with Hibs.

Good Celtic performances have been thin on the ground this season so far but when the sides last met at Celtic Park on 27 September, in a game Celtic won 3-0, the Celts were in fine form. Yet it was a game where Hibs also had their chances, with striker Kevin Nisbet – a striker we can but hope Celtic are keeping a watchful eye on – causing the Celtic backline particular problems that afternoon.

As such a visit to Easter Road is something to be wary of especially when you consider Celtic haven’t found the green side of Edinburgh a happy hunting, having not won a league encounter against the Leith side since 2014. In fact, it may be an idea to play both Nir Bitton and Scott Brown in the starting eleven as the only two remaining players who started that game six years ago!

16th December 2018, Easter Road, Edinburgh, Scotland; Ladbrokes Premiership football, Hibernian versus Celtic;

This game is one where the Celts simply have to win. A victory would see Celtic into a run of league fixtures that certainly look not only winnable but from which a much-needed series of victories could be put together.

Once Saturday’s encounter in the capital is hopefully successfully negotiated, Celtic face a run of fixtures through to the New Year Derby game where a winning run could feasibly be negotiated. Celtic have St Johnstone then Kilmarnock at home on 6 and 13 December respectively, before facing up to Ross County at home on the 23rd, Hamilton away on the 26th and we see out the year on 30 December at home to Dundee United. Given that run of fixtures a win tomorrow could set us on the way to a confidence boosting sequence of results before we have the opportunity to right a few wrongs at Ibrox on 2 January.

At today’s press conference Neil Lennon certainly looked in a positive frame of mind as he outlined no long-term concerns over Jeremie Frimpong and that Chris Jullien, although not available for Saturday, would likely to be back in the fold ahead of Thursday’s Europa league tie with Sparta Prague. Having Jullien back can only help a defence that has been under immense, and probably deserved, scrutiny of late.

Hopefully that could mean with both Kris Ajer and the bang in-form Moi Elyounoussi, having managed to avoid the need for isolation after returning from Norway’s’ bizarre international break, that Celtic can go into the game with Hibs fielding close to an unchanged side from the win over Motherwell. There must however be a temptation, given Frimpong’s erratic defending of late, to consider the solidity of Hatem Abd Elhamed at right back for tomorrow.

The manager may also have an eye on Odsonne Edouard returning to goalscoring form with the French Under 21’s. That said the frontline against Motherwell was on fire and the work rate of Albian Ajeti was a big part of that. His decision to avoid international football and focus on his fitness for Celtic should be rewarded.

With Celtic only managing one clean sheet since the middle of last month, it is fair to say many eyes will be on Lennon and Celtic this weekend to see some signs of improvement in that regard, but even without it a four-pronged attack of Elyounoussi, Rogic, Ajeti and a buzzing Ryan Christie should be more than enough to occupy Hibs. Of the last five games away from home Celtic have scored 16 goals, showing if we can tighten up defending cross balls and particularly free kick set pieces then that winning run we all desire is well within reach.

Despite the patchy form of late we can all take some comfort from the fact Celtic are unbeaten in their last 17 away games and have won in 14 of them in the last year, scoring at least three in nine of those games and at least two in 15 of them.

Our opponents meanwhile had started to show some fraying form before a 4-1 win over Championship Dundee in their last game. They surrendered third spot to Aberdeen prior to the international break with a 2-0 defeat at Pittodrie, having previously gone on a six-game undefeated run across all competitions following their loss at Celtic Park. It may well be a good time to face Jack Ross and Hibs given confidence may be dented.

Celtic will need of course need to keep an eye on Kevin Nisbet. His form this season has shown he is a player improving and he certainly caused Shane Duffy problems when the sides met at Celtic Park. I’m fairly sure a certain international manager not exactly blessed with a plethora of attacking options will be keeping a watchful eye on the on-form striker ahead of a big summer tournament.

Nisbet was back to goalscoring ways against Dundee, and in the league alone this season has already netted seven goals from eleven appearances, with a further two coming in the league Cup. With Martin Boyle also a threat this will be a test for Celtic’s defence when Hibs counter.

This should all be about Celtic tomorrow. It’s a tough place to go and defensive improvement will be essential, but even if this comes down to a straight shoot-out the Hibs backline aren’t exactly rock solid and Celtic have the superior firepower. Expect Celtic to win and win well tomorrow and claim that first league win at Easter road since 2014. A victory that could well catapult the Celts into a series of games from which a much-needed winning run could form.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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