Finally, it looks as though Hatem Elhamed is going to get his long-overdue chance to stake his claim against Sparta Prague tonight.
Neil Lennon briefly touched on his injury news at a pre-match press conference plagued with questions about the incessant pressure on him. Throughout it all, he managed to find time to let everyone know that Elhamed and Chris Jullien were firmly in contention to start this evening.
Speaking on Celtic TV, Lennon said: “Well Griffiths is out with a knee problem but he should be okay in the next few days. Just too sore for tomorrow. Jullien’s in contention to start as is Elhamed.”
After sitting on the bench for the last several matches playing second-fiddle to Jeremie Frimpong, it looks like Elhamed is a cert to start.
Why? Well, Elhamed has now been available for the last month. When Lennon says he’s “in contention” to start the game, it’s not as if he’s just been returning from injury. It’s quite clear from the Celtic boss that he’s all but set to throw him in against Prague in a bid to freshen things up.
Elhamed can offer something Frimpong can’t
It may be like-for-like positionally, but Elhamed and Frimpong couldn’t be different in their approach. Whereas Jeremie relies mainly on his speed, Elhamed is all about power and technical ability.
Despite being a right-back, he has surprisingly good feet and has a composure with the ball that’s been badly missing. However, best of all, he has an aerial threat, and that’s something Hibs managed to exploit with Frimpong on Saturday.
He’s a more streetwise defender and you can see that maturity when he plays. Not to mention in his last few appearances he’s also managed to bag a couple of assists with some tremendous crosses at McDiarmid Park and Fir Park respectively.
His reintroduction back into the first team will be welcome if Lennon confirms it in his selection tonight. You can almost guarantee with Elhamed that he’ll do a job, and is arguably one of Lennon’s most efficient signings given he’s never lost a domestic game that he’s been involved in.
In terms of Europe, Elhamed’s record reads extremely well too. He’s been involved in 10 European matches for the club too and has walked away with wins in four of the eight games he’s started in. His only defeats have come against Ferencvaros and Cluj respectively. Elhamed has the stats to back up being Lennon’s most reliable signing, especially when he’s given a run of games.
Frimpong’s time will come to break his way back into the team, but Elhamed’s return to the starting XI is long overdue. Hopefully, he plays this evening.