Hibs' Ross Laidlaw can't wait to take on Celtic
Neil Lennon and his players may have been delighted with their narrow win over Ross County, but there was none more happy than goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw.
Not only was it the 25-year-old’s debut in the Premiership but one he marked by keeping Hibs’ first clean sheet of the season, earned in no small part by two outstanding saves.
A point-blank stop, turning Michael Gardyne’s effort on to the post, and a diving save to push aside Alex Schalk’s late shot ensured Paul Hanlon’s early strike would be enough to clinch a first win in five league games for the Capital club.
Now, though, Laidlaw faces the daunting task of trying to emulate that feat in Saturday’s clash against Celtic in the east end of Glasgow, Hibs becoming the latest side to attempt to halt Brendan Rodger’s dominant team which, with victory over Old Firm rivals Rangers at the weekend, has now clocked up 57 matches undefeated by Scottish opposition.
But while admitting it’s a “massive ask” to become the first side to beat Celtic since St Johnstone did so 16 months ago, Laidlaw insisted he won’t suffer too many sleepless nights before heading along the M8 on Saturday.
He said: “That’s what it’s all about, Hibs coming up and playing at places like Celtic Park.
“As a young boy you grow up dreaming of playing in big stadiums in front of big crowds so I am looking forward to it. It will be a full house and that’s what you want.
“We know it’s going to be a really difficult game. Celtic are closing in on 60 games unbeaten in Scotland which is an incredible record, but we’ll train hard this week and see what we can do come the weekend.”
Former Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths is an obvious threat as he faces his boyhood heroes for the first time in his career, but while aware of the danger the Scotland star poses, Laidlaw insisted it would be foolish to ignore the galaxy of talent at Rodgers’ disposal.
The former Raith Rovers player said: “I’ve never played at Celtic Park and I’ve never played against Leigh. He’s just one of many quality players they have, but we have good players ourselves, guys like Anthony Stokes and Simon Murray who can cause them problems.
“We’ve done really well away from home this season. Our performances have been good, so we’ll look to take that into Saturday.”
Neil Lennon’s players will, insisted Laidlaw, go into the match with confidence rising following their win in Dingwall, their first since beating Rangers at Ibrox in mid-August.
On a personal level, the weekend outing was Laidlaw’s first league game this season having previously been confined to the Betfred Cup triumphs over Arbroath and Livingston.
But with his regular No.1 Ofir Marciano ruled out as he observes Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Lennon took the opportunity to give his back-up goalkeeper some much needed game time.
Laidlaw said: “Ofir came in at the start of the season and he said right away he couldn’t play one Saturday because of Yom Kippur and his religious beliefs, then I worked out it would be Celtic away.
“It’s not the easiest of games to come in to, so it’s been good to get a couple of games beforehand.”
Laidlaw, who made his Hibs debut in the second leg of last season’s Europa League against Brondby in Copenhagen, was frustrated to lose two goals in the Betfred Cup win over Livingston a few days before taking on Ross County, but was delighted to show what he could do as Hibs side moved into fourth place in the table.
He said: “I thought I’d done all right against Livingston and didn’t have much of a chance with either of their two goals. So to go to Dingwall, a difficult place to go as any team will tell you, and come away with a clean sheet and, more importantly, the three points, was a massive result for us.
“The clean sheet was important because we haven’t been doing that recently. I’d tried to treat is as just another game although it was my first in the Premiership and I was really happy to be able to play my part in the win.
“The first stop from Gardyne came at a crucial time. He hit it early and I was lucky enough to stick out a hand, turn the ball on to the post and for it to come straight back to me. And the second from Schalk, I thought, was another strong save.”
It was, however, the heroics of County goalkeeper Scott Fox which prevented Hibs enjoying a more comfortable victory, a fingertip save from Steven Whittaker and two from Anthony Stokes keeping the game alive.
Laidlaw said: “A second goal would have given us that wee cushion and let us relax a bi,t but as a goalkeeper you have a bit of respect for the guy at the other end because you know how hard a position it is.
“But at the same time you’re wanting to see the ball go past him.”