Florian Kamberi today insisted Hibs can put Celtic’s title party on hold for at least another week as he and his team-mates pursue their own quest to be the “best of the rest” behind the champions.
And the Swiss striker believes a positive result against Brendan Rodgers’ team tomorrow can put the Capital outfit on course to overhaul Rangers and Aberdeen.
Hibs go into the five post-split matches three points adrift of the Dons and an Ibrox club ridden by division, both clubs still licking their wounds as they attempt to recover from dismal performances as they were knocked out of the Scottish Cup in the space of 24 hours by Celtic and Motherwell respectively.
There is, however, no such crisis of confidence among Neil Lennon’s players insisted Kamberi, the 23-year-old adamant that a season which has probably exceeded all expectations – at least those of outsiders – won’t be allowed to drift to a conclusion.
He said: “The fact the club has come from the second league to be fighting for second place in the top flight might have been forgotten by many people, but the boys have done brilliantly this season.
“Now we have to be focused for these last five games and we don’t want to see what we have achieved so far count for nothing. We have the opportunity to get second, everyone is ready, we all feel fresh and we all know our jobs.”
Hibs have lost just once in the league since the turn of the year, that single defeat in 11 matches coming at Celtic Park thanks to an early Leigh Griffiths goal, a match watched by Kamberi as he prepared to move to Edinburgh on loan from Grasshoppers Zurich.
On the evidence of that performance and the fact Hibs have twice held Celtic to draws, he insisted the belief many have that come 2.30pm tomorrow the Hoops will be crowned champions yet again could prove to be misplaced.
And, he claimed, the fact that such a carrot is being dangled in front of them will make no difference as to how the game is played.
He said: “We know Celtic will give 100 per cent whether they can win the league or not so it’s not going to be something different for us. We are going into the game with one purpose, we want to win it. We aren’t even looking at a draw, we’ll be playing for a win and to us it doesn’t matter if they can win the league or not.
“Celtic are a strong team. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be in first place but we are in good shape, playing good football. However, if we get chances to score we must be ready to take them because we know we’ll be unlikely to get ten opportunities to do so.”
Kamberi admitted to being impressed as he watched Celtic demolish their Old Firm rivals at Hampden last weekend but, he insisted, Rangers played so poorly it perhaps gave a false impression of just how good Rodgers’ players had been on the day.
Promising Lennon’s men will put up plenty more fight than Rangers did in crashing to a 4-0 defeat which has resonated with recriminations since and led to striker Kenny Miller and captain Lee Wallace being suspended, Kamberi, who has yet to be on a losing Hibs side, said: “We are confident and confidence is the key to success. I thought we were unlucky in that game at Celtic Park. We destroyed them in the second half and a draw would have been great for us.
“But now we are excited and highly motivated.
“Celtic have had another great season but they are not the Celtic who did not lose a game last season. We’re at home, in front of our own fans and a positive result from this game can set us up to be successful in the other four.”
Kamberi admitted he’d never come across the system operated in the Premiership, the league splitting into a top and bottom six after 33 games but, he revealed, it’s something he’s relishing.
He said: “In Switzerland, it’s a ten-team league and we play each other four times. I didn’t know how things worked here but, to be honest, I don’t really care, I’m here to play football, do my best and, hopefully, be successful.”
A top-six finish was Hibs’ initial target after three years in the Championship but, admitted Kamberi, to be being in the position of having something to fight for rather than simply playing the season out has given Lennon’s players a huge incentive.
After tomorrow’s match, Hibs will face Kilmarnock at home before travelling to face Aberdeen and Hearts, wrapping up their season with a visit from Rangers, a game which could prove decisive depending on how results go in the interim.
Kamberi, who has scored six goals since arriving during the January transfer window alongside Jamie Maclaren and Scott Allan – all three giving an impetus to the squad – said: “I think having three of the five games at Easter Road in front of our own fans is perfect for us. I don’t know how many games we’ll need to win to take second but it’s very positive to have three of them at home.
“We’ve done really well and we don’t want to throw it all away at this late stage. Our form has been brilliant. Since the New Year we’ve only lost that one game at Celtic, one we don’t think we should have lost.”
Hibs go into tomorrow’s match without midfield enforcer Marvin Bartley as he serves a one-match suspension, and playmaker Allan, on loan from Celtic and thus barred from facing his parent club. The possible return of on-loan Manchester City winger Brandon Barker and his lightning pace is one option for Lennon.
However, Kamberi insisted Lennon’s squad is strong enough to cope with their absence. Although the Hibs boss did admit he’ll have a “bit of thinking to do”, Kamberi said: “Sometimes you can overthink things when you are playing bigger and better teams and it can be to your detriment.”
While all eyes are focused on tomorrow, everyone at Easter Road is well aware of the threat posed by Kilmarnock, now fifth and only four points behind with the Rugby Park side hoping to take advantage of any cup hangover Aberdeen might still be suffering as they seek to continue their incredible run of form under manager Steve Clarke.
Kamberi, though, admitted that while aware of that danger, it was one which wasn’t being allowed to interfere with what he and his team-mates are looking to do. He said: “We are looking up, not down.”