John McGinn believes Hibs can cause Celtic problems again
Celtic's crown may have slipped ever so slightly, but John McGinn accepts the Premiership champions aren't going to be de-throned this season.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have already dropped more points than they did in their march to the title, the “Invincibles” winning an astonishing 34 of their 38 games with the remaining four drawn.
In total, only eight points were lost, almost half the number Celtic have let slip this time round but even so they still sit comfortably at the top of the table, 11 clear of both Rangers and Aberdeen.
As such, the Hoops remain the most formidable of opposition, a trip to Celtic Park where they are unbeaten still a daunting task for any visitors.
However, while Hibs will make the journey along the M8 tomorrow fully aware of what lies in wait, they will also do so comforted by the fact that they have twice drawn 2-2 with the champions with Scotland midfielder McGinn himself claiming both their goals on their last trip to the east end of Glasgow.
As such, the 23-year-old believes Rodgers will have his players equally alert to the problems Neil Lennon’s side can pose, particularly when they hit the heights of which they are capable.
He said: “Celtic will be aware they will be in for a game, but it is up to us to go there and try to replicate the form we showed in the two previous league games with them.
“It will be a sell-out crowd, everyone wants to go out and express themselves in that sort of atmosphere. It will be tough, but we will give it our best shot.”
And McGinn shrugged off any suggestion Celtic’s powers could be on the wane based on the fact that even if they were to win all 15 of their remaining matches they’d still fall short of last season’s 106-point haul.
The former St Mirren player said: “I think the league is stronger. They may have dropped more points but what they achieved last season was amazing. The run they put together was incredible, something that was always going to be so tough to replicate.
“Hopefully we can take advantage of them maybe being not so fluent, but we have to be wary to the fact that they are such a good team they can pick anyone off at any point.”
Hibs will travel buoyed by their narrow but deserved win over Dundee at Dens Park, the victory secured by McGinn’s fifth goal of the season, the result, insisted the midfielder, the perfect pick-me-up following the Scottish Cup defeat by arch-rivals Hearts a few days earlier.
Hibs had also gone into the match fourth in the table despite having won only two of their previous nine league games, a record which, McGinn agreed, made victory imperative.
He said: “We disappointed everyone in losing at Tynecastle so going into the Dundee game everyone knew how important it was, it didn’t matter how we got the three points.”
They arrived courtesy of McGinn’s left foot as the home defence allowed him the time to wheel and drive a low shot beyond goalkeeper Elliott Parish but the margin of victory should have been greater.
Winger Brandon Barker was twice through one-on-one with Parish only to lose out on both occasions while Simon Murray and Martin Boyle somehow failed to apply the finishing touch to substitute Danny Swanson’s low cross from only a few inches out.
Accepting that has become a familiar refrain this season, Lennon’s players have paid the price for failing to take their chances, dominating games but not producing victories.
McGinn said: “It’s been the story of our season. We created so many chances but we have to put them away and kill games off.
“It was a tough game but over the piece I think we deserved it. We all knew how important it was to win, it didn’t matter how, but at the same time we were delighted to scrape a 1-0. Hopefully we can take confidence from it and take that into what is a difficult run of games with Motherwell at home followed by Rangers away after tomorrow’s match with Celtic.”
McGinn would be the first to admit his own return in front of goal isn’t as prolific as he might wish, his strike at Dens Park his first since opening the scoring away to Kilmarnock at the end of October.
He said: “I was a bit surprised how much space I got inside the Dundee box so it was all about keeping calm and finding the corner. I think you could see how relieved I was to see it go in.
“It was important to me to score, to get back on the goal trail and hopefully I can at least double my tally by the end of the season.”
Nevertheless, as Lennon admitted afterwards, there were always going to be a few anxious moments as long as Hibs remained ahead by that solitary 52nd-minute strike, Dundee’s Mark O’Hara forcing goalkeeper Ofir Marciano to make a save the Easter Road boss described as “world class” before substitute Matthew Henvey headed just wide from close range in the dying seconds.
“It was a brilliant save from Ofir,” said McGinn. “O’Hara is good in the air and he put it towards the bottom corner of the net but Ofir’s in great form and he showed great reflexes to keep that one out.
“It could have been a draw otherwise so, in effect, Ofir has won the game for us.”
The significance of the win became apparent afterwards with Aberdeen losing to Rangers at Ibrox, leaving both those sides just five points ahead of Hibs, who also enjoy a similar cushion over Hearts.
McGinn’s goal was the result of a clever run from Vykintas Slivka, his pass eluding Murray as he slipped at the front post and possibly catching the Dundee defenders by surprise as it ran through for his team-mate to slot home.
Although he’d also started in the derby, Slivka has found nailing down a regular place in Lennon’s side difficult since his arrival last summer but now, insisted McGinn, Hibs fans are beginning to see the Lithuanian internationalist’s worth.
He said: “It’s good to see Vicky get a run of games. He’s been unlucky in that Dylan [McGeouch], Marv [Marvin Bartley] and myself have managed to hold on to the positions. But with Marv injured he got his chance.
“Vicky is a top player, you don’t go to Juventus if you are not at it, so it’s good to see him come in and hopefully he can keep that run going.”