Efe Ambrose: Hibs are ready to go to war with Celtic

Efe Ambrose chats to another former Celtic player, Anthony Stokes, at East Mains. Ambrose won four league titles and the Scottish and League Cups with the Glasgow club
Efe Ambrose chats to another former Celtic player, Anthony Stokes, at East Mains. Ambrose won four league titles and the Scottish and League Cups with the Glasgow club
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Efe Ambrose believes there is no point in making idle boasts about Hibs becoming the team to end Celtic’s epic run of 57 matches unbeaten by Scottish opposition.

But he insists that he and his team-mates won’t go into tomorrow’s match against Brendan Rodgers’ “Invincibles” simply accepting they are going to become yet another statistic as the Hoops extend that record yet again.

Adamant Neil Lennon’s side won’t just sit back and hope to hang on for 90 minutes in search of the draw which would be regarded as a pretty decent result, the Nigerian internationalist said: “Many teams have done that and been punished.

“So why just go there and get punished? Why not take the game to them and try to take your chance.

“We won’t sit back; the gaffer wants a team that attacks. It’s something Celtic have worked on for years and they are getting their rewards.

“If we take it to them and are beaten then at least let people say we gave them a bit of a game.

“It’s the challenge every team playing Celtic has. They want to be the first to beat them and now it is our turn to try. We are up for the challenge, but it’s action not words.

“We want to do our talking on the pitch, not saying we can do this or that before a ball is kicked. We have to go into the match with the right mentality, do or die, treat it as a cup final.

“That’s what the gaffer wants and once you approach every game as a cup final then you know you are there and the boss is helping us get there.”

While revealing this week has been spent working on Lennon’s game plan, Ambrose accepted the obvious observation that it is going to take some effort from Hibs against a side which returned from facing Anderlecht in Brussels having clocked up their first away win in the Champions League for five years.

And he rejected the suggestion that their midweek exertions might just work to Hibs’ advantage, the 28-year-old saying: “Celtic will be on a high from that result.

“They have done well for the Scottish league in Europe, you cannot take that away from them, their record is great. Fatigue from playing on Wednesday night in Belgium won’t bother them. They have a massive squad and can change the team and no matter who plays, Celtic will play the same way.

“The advantage they have is that everyone is playing well. I have been around them and seen them go from strength to strength. They have played a long time to get that level, we are still working towards it.”

Ambrose believes there is no purpose in labouring Celtic’s strengths, adamant they are there for all to see while at the same time insisting Rodgers’ side are “not unbeatable”.

He said: “You can see the structure is there and they are one of the best football teams in the last five or six years. But you never know what can happen in 90 minutes. So, for us, we go there with a game plan in mind and wee what we can do, what we can achieve.

“We are a good side too, we know that. Sometimes there are surprises. They have their record, you can’t take that away from them, it is a great achievement, but the best can be 

Having said that, Ambrose accepted it will take every Hibs player to be at the top of his game to give Celtic a fright but pointed to how Lennon’s players have risen to the big occasions, beating Brondby away in last season’s Europa League, knocking Capital rivals Hearts out of the Scottish Cup and, more recently, going to Ibrox and winning.

He said: “We have a good squad who have done well in the big games and have one of the best coaches in the country who has been there and done it, someone who knows the game inside out.

“We have our plan and while we know it’s a difficult place to go it’s important we try to capitalise on what we have been working on this week.

“For some of our guys it will be their first time at Celtic Park playing in front of 60,000 so it’s important we stick to our plan, our tactics and, when we get a chance, to take it.”

Ambrose was also adamant there was little point going through the merits of each of Rodgers’ players, responding to being asked about the threat posed by ex-Hibs hitman Leigh Griffiths and French forward Moussa Dembele by saying: “They have good strikers, but so do we. It’s togetherness, team-work that wins games, not the individual. They have great team spirit, so do we.”

Ambrose, of course, will be returning to Celtic Park having been told he wasn’t part of Rodgers’ plans shortly after he became boss of the Hoops last summer, a decision which led to a spell on loan at Easter Road as an emergency cover during which he helped Hibs secure the Championship title and promotion to the Premiership before returning to Edinburgh on a permanent basis.

Striker Anthony Stokes was another who fell into that category, told he wasn’t wanted by the new manager despite having played his part in securing Hibs’ historic Scottish Cup triumph while on loan in the Capital, the Republic of Ireland player finally signing on for a third spell with Hibs.

Ambrose, though, rejected the notion that either he or Stokes, who has scored seven goals so far this season, will travel along the M8 intent on proving a point to Rodgers.

He did, however, admit it will feel strange to line up in the tunnel alongside players who may no longer be team-mates but are still regarded as friends following his four years at Celtic which brought him four titles along with the Scottish and League Cups.

“I’ve never played against a former club before,” he revealed, “It will be amazing to be back there with Hibs, to be on the other side of the pitch to Celtic. Football is like life, people come and go. I don’t think we have anything to prove, the manager is the boss, he has his plan and he was an honest guy, he told me straight to my face. It doesn’t mean it’s the end, you just have to move on and keep working hard which is what I did.

“You have to pick yourself up and face the reality. Dylan McGeouch will also be going back for the first time but for us we are looking forward to it and focusing on the game, not as having once been a Celtic player but of being Hibs players, part of a great club. On the pitch it will be war, a battle but once we come off we’ll be friends with the guys again and shake hands.”