St Johnstone midfielder Liam Craig admits his side face a formidable test as they bid to maintain their unbeaten record against on-form Hibs this season.
The Perth outfit have taken four points from their two meetings with their Easter Road counterparts and are one of only three Premiership sides who haven’t been defeated by Neil Lennon’s team this term – Celtic and Hamilton Accies are the others.
Craig, a former Hibs captain, knows Saints will have to be at their best if they are to take anything from Friday’s McDiarmid Park encounter with a side who have defeated Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts, and drawn away to on-form Kilmarnock, in their last four matches. The 31-year-old is braced for the likelihood that his old club, renowned for their strong midfield unit, will have the lion’s share of possession.
“It’s going to be very difficult for us on Friday,” Craig told the Evening News. “In our previous games against Hibs this season, we’ve been on the back foot at times but we’ve stayed in the game and taken our chances when they’ve come along, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do on Friday. We can either get in their faces or we can keep them in front of us and try and stop them breaking our lines.
“In the 1-1 game at our place (in September), Hibs had a lot of the ball but we went a goal up. They equalised but they would have been disappointed not to win the game in the end. At Easter Road (a 2-1 win for Saints in November) we were arguably the better side in the second half. We know there will be times on Friday when Hibs have the ball, so it’s up to us dictate where they go with it, and then make sure we impose ourselves when we do get it and try and take our chances when they come along.”
Craig believes Hibs, currently fourth in the Premiership, are genuine contenders to finish second this season. “When you see where they are in the league and what they’ve done against Rangers and Aberdeen this season and even against Celtic, they’re definitely pushing for second place,” he said. “They’re only seven points behind with a game in hand and they’ve still got to play Rangers as well, so I’m sure that’s what they’ll be setting their sights on. They’re also only a couple of points behind Aberdeen, so they’ll be right up for it on Friday.”
Although Hibs will be favourites, Saints, who are six points outside the Premiership’s top six after enduring a difficult season, go into the match on the back of a morale-boosting 4-0 win away to Dundee. “It was a huge win for us,” said Craig. “It was very convincing so we’ve got to take a lot of confidence from it. We kept a clean sheet and scored four – and we could have had a few more. There’s still an opportunity for us to get into the top six. It’s obviously going to be very difficult because we’ll probably have to win all four games but we’ll take each game as it comes and hopefully start with a win against Hibs on Friday.
“It’s been a tough season but we’ve lost a few big players – we lost Danny (Swanson) in the summer, we lost Michael (O’Halloran) in January. It’s been frustrating in terms of results and performances but we’re still fighting for a top-six place. Every season, people say ‘St Johnstone can’t do it again’ but in every season we’ve proved people wrong. With the slide we’ve been on, some people were probably even tipping us to go down – and some maybe still are – but it’s up to us to keep proving people wrong. Certainly a result like the one we got on Saturday puts us back in the right direction, so hopefully we can build on it.”