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Hibernian v Celtic: Now is ideal time to face Hoops after Euro misery, says Lenny

 

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon admits his Hibernian side face a "tall order" if they are to topple Celtic and reach the final of the Betfred Cup.

Hibs face the daunting task of taking on Brendan Rodgers' side in the semi-final at Hampden Park today, with the Hoops in the midst of a 59-game unbeaten domestic run.

Lennon's side came as close as anyone to ending the sequence, being held to a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park in September after a late Callum McGregor goal.

"The performance at Celtic Park, while it was a good performance, it will bear no significance on this match.

"This team are undefeated in over a year domestically, so it tells you about the tall order in front of us, but it's not insurmountable.

"I've told the players no one remembers semi-finalists so it's important they take the game in isolation and not think about two weeks ago and focus on the here and now."

The surroundings will be familiar for the Hibs players, who have recent experience of playing in the national stadium having won the Scottish Cup in 2016 and finishing runners-up in the League Cup that same season.

Such experience could be crucial to the squad, and Lennon tipped John McGinn to prosper after the midfielder scored twice in the draw earlier in the season.

He said: "He's a big-game player and I have a few of those in the team. They've been at Hampden on a few occasions now so it won't be unfamiliar surroundings for them."

With Rangers facing Motherwell in the other semi-final, there remains a prospect of an Old Firm final in November, and Lennon said he was happy to go under the radar in the build-up.

"There's an expectation on the Old Firm to get to the finals and compete, so it's nothing new," he said.

"They will obviously be hurting after Wednesday night.

"It's probably a good time to play them, without us having a midweek game, so if there is any advantage for us to take we must utilise that as best we can.

"Our preparation has been pretty good."

Celtic manager Rodgers is confident his players' big-game mentality can see them overcome far-from-ideal preparations for the Betfred Cup semi-finals.

The players got home from Germany at about 4am on Thursday morning following a 3-0 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich, and have only had one day's training to prepare for the clash with Hibernian.

But Celtic clinched the trophy last season with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Aberdeen on the Sunday after losing to Barcelona in the Champions League just four days previously.

"This situation isn't new to us," Rodgers said. "Since we have been here working together we have come back late from Champions League games, we have come back late from domestic games, and we go into the next game with a real aggressive, positive mindset.

"We play in big games, the players have succeeded in big games. The game in Bayern Munich, even though the result didn't go for us, was a great learning game for us. We will take so much from that, and that will benefit us going into Saturday's game and games after that.

"The focus is on the now. Semi-finals are normally tight games so we will anticipate that.

"Hibs played well in the last game against us but this is at Hampden and we have enjoyed our time there," he added.

Hibernian vs Celtic

Betfred Cup semi-final:

Hampden Park, Today, 12.15pm

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