ANY task becomes that little bit easier when you have done it successfully once, and Hibernian’s Danny Handling hopes that experience will be the key to a home victory against Celtic this afternoon.
The 19-year-old was a member of the Hibs squad which beat the champions 1-0 at Easter Road last season, and believes if his team approach the game in the right manner they can again claim all three points.
“I feel we can beat anyone here on our day, with the fans behind us,” he said. “We won 1-0 last time, and did well to get a result, because they are Scottish champions. They’ve probably got the best squad on paper, but they are beatable.
“I came on that day, for the last five or ten minutes. At the time I wasn’t really playing a lot, just in and out the team. I came on that day to try and defend the lead – so they’d know who to blame. Thankfully, we got the result.
“You need to show them a bit of respect, because they are good players and very talented. But you have to show them what you can do, not lie down, and fight back. And hopefully that’s enough on the day.”
The best efforts of Handling were not enough in the final game of last season, when Celtic strolled to a 3-0 victory in the Scottish Cup final. Nonetheless, the experience of coming on for the last 20 minutes in such a big match was invaluable, and he believes it has left him a more composed player.
“The adrenalin was unbelievable, despite getting beaten,” Handling said of the match, in which he replaced Eoin Doyle. “To come on in a Scottish Cup final against anybody is a great achievement in itself.
“I was only 18, so to get on in a game like that was massive. I was up against Emilio Izaguirre. At first, I didn’t know what to think because he’s big, he’s quite fast: I was quite cautious. But once I got on I wasn’t too bad – I was more focused on my own game.
“I would say there’s not a lot of nerves now. Because I’ve played quite a few games, I know what it’s like at first-team level. I know what the fans expect and what the tempo’s like, so I’m used to it. Games like this can bring out nerves in the best of players, so there are still a few nerves before.”
After some time on the sidelines with an ankle injury, Handling is fit again and eager to reclaim his place, something which he knows will not be easy. “It’s a massive squad and everyone’s got massive ability, so to get back in the team is going to be hard for anyone. We’ve won five in the last seven games, so that says how much the team are improving.
“I’m fit enough. I’ve been doing runs, I’ve been doing a bit extra. I’d say I’m back to where I was before, so it’s all come together again.
“It’s obviously one of the biggest games of the season against one of the best teams. They’re Scottish champions for a reason, so it’s a very big game for everyone.”