Paul Heckingbottom praises Celtic ahead of crunch clash

By David Walton

April 21, 2019

Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom has labeled Celtic the “best team in the land” as he encouraged a fast start from his side today.

The Englishman’s Hibees take on Celtic for the second time in his tenure this afternoon. The Hoops are the only team to beat Heckingbottom’s side since he took over from Neil Lennon back in mid-February.

Heckingbottom has won six of nine games in charge. He also managed a draw in his first meeting with second-placed Rangers too. He’s yet to lose a Premiership match, and Celtic will be looking to change that stat this afternoon at Easter Road.

Paul Heckingbottom has started his Hibs tenure by guiding them into the top six (Alan Rennie/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Heckingbottom, however, is wary of the threat Celtic pose. Speaking in the Edinburgh Evening News, the former Leeds United manager was praising of Neil Lennon’s side.

“The interesting bit of it is we’re playing Celtic, arguably, at a time when they’re never going to be more motivated.

“They’re trying to get over the finish line. But if you get that win, then it’s someone else who’s got to face them. If we get three points against Celtic, we’re in front of everyone else because they’re the best team in the land and they’ll find it hard to do what we’ve done.

“It’s difficult if they have real good players who are at the pinnacle of the competition you’re playing in. It’s tough, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten.”

Celtic will have to work for anything today

Easter Road has never been a happy hunting ground for Celtic in recent seasons. Since being promoted to the Premiership, Hibs haven’t lost a league game at home to the Hoops. That’s another stat that could do with changing.

Of course, Celtic are coming into this afternoon’s clash in an unbeaten run of their own. They haven’t lost any of Lennon’s eight matches in charge, and have shipped just two goals.

Neil Lennon has yet to lose since his Parkhead return (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Ideally, Celtic put in a performance that continues the confidence of last weekend’s 3-0 win over Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Three points are the most important thing, but it’s difficult to argue that Celtic need some more positive performances to go with the wins.

Celtic can expect a high press from the word go this afternoon. Hibs have had their best joy against us when they’ve played a high line and got in our faces from the start. Celtic’s distribution from the back was disgraceful the last time we visited Leith in the Premiership. That’s the one real area of improvement that needs to have been made for today.

So will we see the display we saw against Hibs in Lennon’s second game in charge? Or the weak outing back in December? We can’t stress enough how important it is that’s it’s the former.