Brandon Barker believes Celtic will be more than a little wary of Hibs in Saturday’s Betfred Cup semi-final after the Easter Road outfit came close to wrecking the Scottish champions’ unbeaten record.
Two goals from John McGinn at Celtic Park threatened to end a 16-month run which had seen Brendan Rodgers’ side clock up 57 games without defeat in domestic competition, Callum McGregor’s second of the game salvaging a late point for the Hoops.
Three weeks later and Celtic remain “the invincibles”, a narrow 1-0 victory over Dundee at the weekend extending their achievement to an astounding 59 matches. Barker, however, insists the memory of how close Premiership new boys Hibs came to ending it all won’t be forgotten by the Glasgow side as they head for Hampden looking to defend the first leg of last season’s treble.
The on-loan Manchester City winger said: “I think they know we are no pushovers. The boys did a fantastic job that day and Celtic were kind of lucky to get the draw. We’ll be going there without any fear. We’ll give it a good go. It’s a semi-final and anything can happen.
“It’s a case of playing our own game. We did that the last time and came so close to a victory with a fantastic performance. Hopefully, we can do the same this weekend and go one better.”
Hibs’ display in the east end of Glasgow did, Barker revealed, win the approval of Celtic players Olivier Ntcham – signed in a £4.5 million deal from City – and Patrick Roberts, like himself on loan from Pep Guardolia’s squad.
He said: “I spoke to the two of them after the game and they said we are a good side. We know they are fantastic players but we have fantastic players ourselves. We’ll be looking to match them in every department and hopefully everyone can get the better of their man.”
Barker was limited to just seven minutes of action at Celtic Park, a late substitute after a hip injury had caused him to miss Hibs’ win over Ross County. And, having stepped from the bench again as Neil Lennon’s players lost to Aberdeen, he’s hoping to force his way into the starting line-up this weekend.
The 20-year-old said: “I’d trained the day before the Celtic game but it wasn’t enough to make the starting eleven. I was pretty devastated about that but I couldn’t argue when the boys did so well.
“Fingers crossed, I will get the nod this weekend and show what I can do, running at people and hopefully causing havoc. I think people can see when I get the ball that my first thought is to dribble, to try to get the fans off their feet and to give them something to cheer.
“I played with Olivier for a long time so it wasn’t a surprise to see him score against Dundee at the weekend – he has that in his locker as his shooting is very good. I’ve also played with Pat so it will be a bit strange to play against them but it will be a good test. They are great players and it will let me see where I am.”
Celtic will go into the lunchtime start at Hampden on the back of a testing Champions League match away to German giants Bayern Munich tomorrow, a situation which has upset Rodgers, but one which he confronted following their trip to face Anderlecht in Brussels only days before their last encounter with Hibs.
Barker agreed that can only help Hibs but warned: “The have fantastic strength in depth, a squad which can hurt anyone in Europe as everyone has seen. Whatever team they put out will be really strong.”
As disappointing as the defeat to Aberdeen was, Barker insisted he and his Easter Road team-mates will quickly get over the setback with the cup semi-final quickly followed by the first Edinburgh derby of the season.
“We’ll put the defeat out of our mind as soon as,” he claimed. “I thought we were on top for most of the game. They created one really good chance and scored but overall they didn’t create as much as we did.”
The inability to turn that dominance into goals was a clear frustration to Lennon, who highlighted the fact his side had enjoyed 16 shots at goal but only three on target and also how in Hibs’ last three matches his frontmen had failed to find the net.
It was a criticism Barker fully accepts but one which he feels can be quickly addressed, promising that once Lennon’s players do so they’ll become an even more formidable force.
He said: “That’s what we are lacking at the minute, not scoring enough goals. Me, myself, I need to be better in front of goal – the whole front five need to be better. But we are working on it.
“We are slack in that department at the minute but we know we have it in us and that it is just a matter of time until we are banging in the goals.
“We are creating chances. It is all about finishing them which is something the whole team is working on in training. We’re doing it in training, but it’s not showing on the pitch but I think when it does we’ll be a fantastic team.”