Whittaker: This is as tough as it gets but Hibs can beat Celtic

Steven Whittaker relaxes at East Mains but is in no doubt about what he shall face at Celtic Park today
Steven Whittaker relaxes at East Mains but is in no doubt about what he shall face at Celtic Park today
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Steven Whittaker agrees that today’s clash with Celtic is as tough as it will get for Hibs, but he sees no reason why Neil Lennon’s side can’t end the Hoops’ unbeaten run.

The Easter Road outfit face Celtic for the first time since going down 4-0 in the east of Glasgow nearly four years ago, Lewis Stevenson being the only survivor from that day.

And Whittaker conceded he and his team-mates will be facing a team currently at the pinnacle of their game, unbeaten in 57 matches against Scottish opposition and on a high following their Old Firm triumph and a first away win in the Champions League in five years, a 3-0 victory over Anderlecht in Belgium.

Whittaker is openly appreciative of what Brendan Rodgers’ players have done, the 
33-year-old saying: “I have played against a few Celtic teams and I think what this team has achieved, the unbeaten run over the length of time they have done it, is a great achievement for any team.

“At the moment it looks as if it is as tough as it gets for us. They are at the pinnacle of their game at the minute, unbeaten domestically as we all know. But that means it is down to us to go there with a game plan and somehow come away with something.

“They definitely have good players who we will need to be wary of on the day.

“We know they are an attacking threat from all over the park. [Patrick] Roberts and [Scott] Sinclair are fantastic players and we will have to be on our toes, not just the full-backs, everyone.

“They are all different players, but all good footballers. They have a combination of pace and trickery, and are all at a club like Celtic for a reason – they all have ability.

“So regardless of which one of them you have to come up against, you still know you are in for a tough afternoon.

“We’ll need to defend well, but we believe we have players who can be an attacking threat as well and hopefully we can cause them a few problems as well.

“It is about how we play as a unit and whether we can defend well, nullify them and stunt their attacks as much as possible. As well as that, we have to find a way to be a threat ourselves and cause them a few problems.

“When it comes to ending the unbeaten run, I don’t see why not. Every other team will have fancied their chances and have tried to beat them. Now we play them and I don’t see why it can’t be us.

“It’s the first time Hibs have played them for a while having just come back into the league, and this is a great opportunity for us to end the run. We believe we have a talented squad and we will see what happens.”

Celtic have undoubtedly been dealt a blow with the news that both Whittaker’s former Hibs team-mate Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong have been ruled out of today’s match and Scotland’s final two World Cup qualifying matches against Slovakia and Slovenia next week . Brown has a hamstring injury and Armstrong is hampered with a calf injury.

Whittaker, also part of Gordon Strachan’s squad for those games, said: “It’s not good that Scott will miss the qualifiers. He has been great for us since he did the U-turn and came out of retirement, he’s a massive player for us.”

Whittaker was an unused substitute in the previous matches against Lithuania and Malta having earned a Scotland recall following his return to Easter Road. He is delighted to be involved again.

“It is great going away with Scotland just now because Gordon has a really good bunch of boys and everyone is on the same page trying to achieve the same thing so they are really enjoyable trips to be part of.

“We are all working hard to try to achieve qualification.”