Under pressure boss Heckingbottom faces up to Celtic’s 12-win, 3-trophy League Cup run.
Since a comfortable July League Cup section campaign and an opening day SPFL win over St Mirren, Hibs have defeated Greenock Morton in extra time and Kilmarnock on penalties to reach the semi-final. In other words, the Hibees have not savoured 90-minute success since 3rd August.
They have drawn their last 6 matches which includes their best result and performance of the season, holding the champions 1-1 at Easter Road. Celtic had 24 shots to 7 that day and two clear and obvious penalties denied by Clancy and will go into the game with confidence regardless.
Hibs rely on creativity through their double pivot of Allan and Mallan centrally. Allan has 5 scoring contributions in the SPFL and Mallan 3. But they struggle ahead of this where Doidge and Kamberi have managed 1 league goal between them. The returning Boyle scored a late equaliser on Wednesday against Livingston. He and Horgan can provide some pacey threat in wide positions.
The Easter Road side are actually 4th highest in the league for total shots (110), but convert only 11% of them. At the other end, they have the 2nd lowest proportion of clean sheets. It’s not a great combination. 22 goals conceded speaks to a leaky defence that sees plenty of chopping and changing of personnel.
Lennon has not tinkered too much this season and can be expected to “go strong” once again in defence of the first trophy of the season. The league leaders are in fine form but are an Edouard injury away from a problem with minimal back up. Happily, the goals remain shared around with Forrest (10), Christie (12) and Elyounoussi (5) all managing more than any Hibs player.
Hibs are not noted for their fortitude with the 1-1 Celtic draw the exception. Celtic have a new found love for Hampden and I expect a 3-0 Hoops win with Elyounoussi to continue his scoring form.Watch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind
This is the biggest game of the season to date, a chance for us to keep up our incredible run is domestic cup competitions.
Having won the last 3 league cups, every team in the county will be out to get the scalp of Celtic and we need to be ready for that come Saturday afternoon.
Our form going into the game couldn’t be much better with us being top of the league in Scotland and in our Europa League group.
Hibs have been on a poor run of late and are lucky to still have a manager following their draw at home to Livingston in midweek.
A switched-on attitude from the start and I see a comfortable Celtic win, with Elyounoussi and Edouard scoring.
I don’t want to feel it, but I felt it on Wednesday night. It’s colder, darker, and bleaker. But it’s exciting at the same time. I know others felt it as well. At half-time, we spoke, hushed, about scoring before 60 minutes as if we needed too. The thought of chasing a goal after that filled us with dread. Why?
We know that any slip can be punished. Any slip could be big in the final say of things. It’s early and slips can be recovered and, with a look ahead to our fixtures, you need to predict that it will happen and we can’t be scared of them. We can’t overreact to them, but we have to prepare for them.
I celebrated our opener against St Mirren, fashionably scrappy in keeping with the game being played, like I celebrated the winner against Lazio. It was just as meaningful to me. I’m disappointed that we didn’t push on after the second but we never clicked on the night.
But we won, could have won by more, and we maybe weren’t as free-flowing as we have been, but we have won four out of four since the international break and not to enjoy that is just moaning for the sake of moaning.
We have to enjoy the effort of the players as they do give it their all but it’s maybe natural that we think about the big ‘what if?’ It’s now a massive ‘what if?’ after not losing a cup tie for over three seasons. How do we choose to die?
Quietly in our sleep or down in a blaze of glory? We are now at the showpiece end of the League Cup, facing a Hibs side who can’t quite make up their minds whether they are waving or drowning. We are now at the stage where we don’t want to lose. Don’t want to give up that trophy, but eventually we will and does it hurt less to lose it in a semi-final to Hibs or a final to two teams who you don’t want to win the booby prize in a raffle?
I must admit, this is pressure. We have enough to beat Hibs. More than enough, but we had more than enough a few weeks back and didn’t. We will turn up to Hampden in the early evening, where the temperature begins to drop as darkness grabs a hold, hoping that the floodlights remind us of the brightness we have seen in this stadium, and we allow our mentality and talent to do the talking and not listen to the occasion. The occasion will be whispering in the players ears and they mustn’t let that win.
An early goal will settle the nerves and if that is forthcoming I can see us playing out a comfortable victory. I predict Celtic will win 3-0 with Christie scoring, moving this pressure and fear on for another few weeks.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind