Ryan McGivern: Together Hibs are stronger

Ryan McGivern and Terry Butcher
Ryan McGivern and Terry Butcher
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Beaten by Ajax, Celtic hit back by thumping Ross County and Aberdeen. Defeated by AC Milan, Neil Lennon’s players responded by destroying first Hearts and then Motherwell, scoring 12 goals in the process and away from home to boot.

But how, many are asking, will the Glasgow outfit react to having suffered a dose of their own medicine, taken apart and humbled by Barcelona as the completed their Champions League adventure for another season in the Nou Camp?

However, as far as Hibs star Ryan McGivern is concerned, that 6-1 humiliation in Spain will have little bearing on tomorrow’s clash at Celtic Park, adamant the Capital outfit’s focus is entirely on how they perform rather than hoping their opponents suffer something of a hangover.

“I don’t think what happened the other night will affect tomorrow’s game in any way,” claimed the Northern Ireland internationalist. “Barcelona are one of the best teams in the world, probably the best, so it was always going to be tough for Celtic.

“Hopefully the fact they had a bit of travelling to do, not getting back until the early hours of yesterday morning, will mean they aren’t quite as fresh as they might have been, but as far as we are concerned it’s a game we are looking forward to, a chance to pick up some more points.

“We know the size of the task ahead of us, but we are hoping for a good team performance and a positive result.”

While Celtic have been sweeping all before them – at least on the domestic front – in recent weeks, McGivern pointed out that under new boss Terry Butcher they’ve conceded just once in three matches although, admittedly, Celtic in their own back yard presents a different proposition to St Mirren, Ross County and Partick Thistle.

The former Manchester City defender said: “The key for us is to do what we have been doing in recent weeks, sticking together and playing the way the manager wants us to play –and to put them under pressure when we can. Terry Butcher has come in and done a lot of work on the back four and I think you’ve seen in the last few games we are hard to break down. That’s not just the back four, the defenders. It starts at the front where the two strikers have been working their socks off.

“We defend and attack as a team, that’s starting to show and I think the boys are buying in to what is wanted and really enjoying it.”

The last match between Hibs and Celtic ended in a sea of acrimony, Hoops boss Lennon castigating the Edinburgh side – then under the charge of Pat Fenlon – for their rough-house tactics, describing some of their challenges as “reckless” and branding one in particular as “rugby-esque” – charges which brought a swift response via Twitter from Easter Road stars Michael Nelson and Rowan Vine.

While Vine went over the top and was censured by the SFA for his comments, Nelson posted a photograph of himself showing a black eye, although it later transpired his left cheekbone had been fractured in three places as Celtic striker Amido Balde’s head smashed into his face, the veteran centre back the only real injury victim that day.

Today, though, McGivern insisted Lennon’s outburst – one which surprised many given the former midfielder’s own playing days when he was never known to shirk a challenge – won’t change Hibs’ approach this time round.

He said: “There were a few bits and bobs said, but I think conditions that day didn’t help some of the challenges. Football is a man’s game and I think all the tackles were hard, but quite fair – nothing over the top in my opinion.

“Tomorrow we’ll be going into the game like any other, looking to impose ourselves on the other team and to make it difficult for them to play against us. I’m not so sure about us being over-physical. Football is a physical sport and you have to take it at times. It will be no different tomorrow. We’ll be going there looking to impose ourselves on them, to get in their faces and make it as uncomfortable a game as we can for them.

“I’m sure some people will look at this game and say we are not expected to get anything from it, but, if anything, that will just motivate us all the more and if we come away with a positive result then everyone will sit up and take note.”

Events off the field will also be under scrutiny, with Celtic having banned more than 100 of their own supporters following the misbehaviour at Fir Park, where seats were ripped apart and flares set off, but, McGivern claimed, his focus and that of his team-mates will remain firmly focused on what takes place within those white lines.

He said: “I don’t know too much about it all. It’s a great stadium to play in. It’s always pretty much full with a good atmosphere and I’m sure it will be no different this time.”

While Hibs sit seventh in the Scottish Premiership table, the position they occupied at the end of last season, McGivern said the hectic schedule of matches over the Festive period, starting with the trip along the M8, could have a decisive bearing on how the remainder of the league campaign pans out.

He said: “It’s that old cliché about games coming thick and fast, but if you can show a bit of consistency through December and January, you can get yourselves right up that table and that’s something we are totally focused on.”