With a cup semi-final at Hampden on Saturday followed by an Edinburgh derby on Tuesday, Hibs could probably do with calling on the services of former striker Grant Holt for their upcoming double-header.
Evidence of his time at Easter Road last season suggests the veteran was built for such high-stakes occasions, with his best performances coming in the two Scottish Cup matches against Hearts in February and in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen in April when he came off the bench at the national stadium and led a stirring fightback which almost brought a famous victory.
Holt, of course, is no longer at Hibs after moving on in the summer, but he still has maximum faith in the ability of his old colleagues – renowned over the past few years for producing their best in the biggest matches – to make their presence felt against Celtic in the Betfred Cup and Hearts in the Premiership over the next six days.
“The players have been in games like these many times before – I think we showed plenty times last season that we can do well against the better teams and they’ve shown again this season that they can hold their own against anyone,” said Holt. “They’ll be going into these games quietly confident.”
Hibs face Celtic in Glasgow just three weeks after going close to ending the champions’ unbeaten domestic run which stretches back to May 2016.
“The 2-2 draw with Celtic the other week shows you how good Hibs can be when they’re on their game,” continued 36-year-old Holt. “I think they’ll approach Saturday’s game the same way they did at Celtic Park. Against a team like Celtic, who have got the arsenal to hurt you if they get any momentum going, you’ve got to be resilient, switched on at all times, and have the right mindset.”
Hibs are heading back to Hampden almost six months to the day since Holt’s heroic display as a first-half substitute helped them wipe out a 2-0 deficit against Aberdeen before they ultimately succumbed to a 3-2 defeat.
“When we got a hold of the game and got into the swing of it, we were a real match for Aberdeen. We got the tactics wrong, but then we switched it and were unfortunate not to win.
“I don’t think it was me in particular that changed the game. I think it was more to do with the manager addressing the formation. A lot of managers would have sat back and waited until half-time to make the change but Neil did it really quickly and it worked for us straight away and gave us the impetus to come out in the second half and have a right go at them. We just couldn’t finish the job off, but it was a great game to be involved in. Everybody could see then we deserved to be heading back to the Premiership.”
Hibs will be hoping that Celtic’s Champions League exertions against Bayern Munich in Germany last night will have an effect on Saturday, although the Easter Road side also face the possibility of weary limbs of their own come Tuesday’s derby.
“It will be an advantage for Hibs that Celtic will have done a lot of running in Munich just a few days earlier but, on the flip side of that, Hibs will have the same issue going into the derby on Tuesday,” noted Holt. “A semi-final against Celtic is not really the game you want just a few days before a derby.”
Nonetheless, Holt fancies Hibs to extend their seven-game unbeaten run over their Edinburgh rivals next week.
“It’s an absolutely massive game,” he said. “No-one ever wants to lose a derby, no matter what country or city it’s in. Bragging rights are up for grabs for everyone. The fact both teams are close to each other and whoever wins will be ahead in the league adds a bit extra spice but, to be honest, the league position is largely irrelevant when it comes to a derby. Regardless of whether they were ten points away from each each other, it’s just a case of winning the game at all costs.
“Hibs have got goals in them, with Anthony Stokes, Simon Murray and Martin Boyle, and they’ve also got one of the best midfielders in the country in John McGinn. Celtic couldn’t live with him the other week. Hibs have got a really good group of players – Hearts will be in for a really tough game.”
Hearts went into last season’s Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle as hot favourites after emphatic back-to-back wins over Rangers and Motherwell. However, after Hibs ground out a goalless draw in Gorgie, Neil Lennon’s team ran out 3-1 winners in a one-sided replay at Easter Road, with Holt scoring in between goals from Jason Cummings and Andrew Shinnie before Esmael Goncalves pulled one back for Hearts. Despite his confidence in his old team, he expects the Tynecastle side to put up sterner resistance under Craig Levein than they managed under Ian Cathro.
“There’s nothing better than scoring a goal in a derby,” said Holt. “I’m just disappointed I didn’t manage to do it at their place when I stretched for a chance. Thankfully, we did it in the replay but I’m still a bit disappointed we didn’t beat them by more. Once we got ahead, we spoke about really putting them to the sword and making sure it was a night for everyone to remember, but unfortunately we just couldn’t nick another couple of goals to do that.
“Hearts will be stronger this time than they were last season. They’ve got Christophe Berra in there and they’ve added a bit of steel and some of their other players have bedded in. There’s been a realisation that they needed to make a change and I’m sure they’ll be more fired up. I think last year, they were probably guilty of taking it for granted that they were going to roll us over, but we knew that even though we were in the Championship, we had a better squad than most teams in the Premiership. They got a shock because we were the better team by miles.”
EX-HIBEE RELISHING MOVE INTO COACHING
Grant Holt is relishing the chance to combine playing with coaching after signing for Evo-Stik League South side King’s Lynn Town.
After leaving Hibs at the end of last season, the 36-year-old, who lives in Norwich, took some time away from football to weigh up his next move before agreeing to join the Norfolk club earlier this month. King’s Lynn are managed by his former Norwich City coach Ian Culverhouse and have also signed former Canaries and St Mirren player Simon Lappin.
“It’s been on the cards for a while because they’ve been asking for ages to go down,” Holt, a former English Premier League striker, said of his move into the non-league ranks.
“I just wanted to wait a while and see what was on offer. I had different options in League One, League Two and also back up in Scotland, but this move meant I could stay at home.
“I’ve got the opportunity to play and also do my coaching at Kings Lynn. Eventually, I want to be a coach and go into management, so this felt like the ideal step. Because we’re part-time, I can do my coaching twice a week, I can go and watch other people doing their coaching and I can still do my media work. I’m working with some old colleagues from my time at Norwich, which always makes it easier. I’ve got a fantastic manager, who was my assistant manager at Norwich, so I can learn a lot from him. It ticks all the boxes.
“I could have kept playing full-time football, but I felt it was right for me to be back home with the family and start putting one foot in the coaching camp.
“I’ve been keeping fit since I left Hibs but King’s Lynn are just breaking me in gently. I played 35 minutes against Dunstable Town (on Tuesday) and we won 4-0. I’ll hopefully get more game time at the weekend and then take it from there.”