Colin CALDERWOOD was today facing a defensive headache after watching Hibs concede four second-half goals to Celtic with skipper Ian Murray facing a race against time to prove his fitness for tomorrow’s return clash in Glasgow.
Murray picked up an unspecified knock as the Easter Road outfit crashed out of the Scottish Communities League Cup and although he has been receiving intensive treatment since, Calderwood conceded the utility man is rated a doubt.
If Murray misses out it will leave Calderwood contemplating further surgery on a back four which underwent drastic reconstruction on Wednesday night. Having settled on a defensive unit of Richie Towell, Sean O’Hanlon, Murray and Paul Hanlon in recent weeks, Calderwood was forced into a major overhaul for the cup quarter-final.
On-loan Celtic star Towell was ineligible to face his “parent” club while new dad O’Hanlon also missed out. As a result David Wotherspoon was drafted in at right back while David Stephens made a rare first-team appearance as he partnered Murray in the centre of a defence which boasted three players aged 21 or under.
Calderwood will have his fingers crossed that 30-year-old Murray wins his fitness battle with Hibs requiring the experience of both him and O’Hanlon, 28, his options limited again through Towell’s enforced absence while Michael Hart and Callum Booth remain sidelined through injury.
The Easter Road manager is well aware Neil Lennon’s side will seek to pick up where they left off on Wednesday night, the Hoops boss having described his players’ performance in the second half as “fantastic” but promising there was much more to come from them.
But while well aware of the potential dangers facing his players, Calderwood believes his youngsters have what it takes to stand up to an anticipated Celtic onslaught.
Accepting there was a “fragility” about Hibs, Calderwood praised his players for coming back for more week after week. He said: “I believe we’ve got the characters here. The youth of the team is the future and they are the young men who will give us the attributes to go forward. We have to accept that we’ve had a knock on the nose. But they keep coming back for more. Not too many just run to the treatment table and put themselves out of contention. This is a tight squad and everyone, more or less, is involved on a Saturday.”
n THE SPL have announced that the next match to take part in their Friday night football experiment will be Hibs’ match with Motherwell at Fir Park which will now be played on Friday, December 2 with a 7.45pm kick-off.