THE last time Hibernian and Celtic met, Neil Lennon was scathing in his assessment, claiming that some of the Easter Road challenges had been “rugby-esque”.
His statements sparked an angry rally of counter-accusations, with Michael Nelson posting photos of his bruised and broken face and Rowan Vine getting himself into hot water with the authorities over comments he posted on Twitter.
If some of the tackles had been full on, the recriminations were just as keenly felt.
This weekend the capital side travel to Parkhead and, although there has been a managerial switch at Hibs since that head to head, the new man, Terry Butcher, won’t be asking his men to tread any more softly.
He said: “We have moved on from that. I certainly think Neil has and I know we have as well – although, whether Michael Nelson has, I am not too sure. No, that is history. It happened before my time. We watched the game and we saw what happened as well as the aftermath of that but I think you have got to be competitive against Celtic and you have got to be strong.
“We have to fight our corner and we have been stronger, physically as well as mentally, since we have been here. We want to improve and we have to be that way physically and mentally on Saturday anyway. As long as we can compete fairly in challenges then I will be happy.”
Standing off against a side who have battered 12 goals past Premiership opposition in their last two games is not really an option if Hibs want to avoid a similar beating.
Butcher believes that is all Hibs were trying to do the last time they faced Celtic.
“I think the game itself was a very competitive one, especially when Hibs were 1-0 up,” he said. “They had a lead to protect and Celtic threw everything at them and eventually got the equaliser.
“When you are fighting for a victory then, yes, you are going to give that bit extra to protect that goal lead.
“I can see how it happened. I don’t think it was over the top. It was just the players trying to protect that lead and make sure that Celtic didn’t score.
“I would have loved to have played in that game myself. It is one I would have relished and I am sure Neil [Lennon] would have liked that as well. Sometimes it is Scottish football and British football at its best when there is no quarter asked and none given between two sides.”
There has been little sympathy shown by Celtic to any of their domestic opponents in recent weeks. The level of performance has been high, while the tempo and movement during games have been punishing. The difficulty of the task facing Hibs, however, is not lost on Butcher, even if Celtic have forgiven and forgotten the physicality of the last meeting.
“We are going into the lion’s den, into the cauldron. I have been there with Caley Thistle this season and that was 2-2,” he said “We want to be prepared for any challenge that Celtic throw at us, combat that and then see how we go.
“It would be very brave to really have a go at Celtic and the team we have is the lowest scoring in the Premiership so, from that point of view, I don’t think we have the type of team who have the experience of having a go and slaughtering a team like Celtic. Against Celtic, you have to be a little bit tight.
“When Rangers were in the SPL, results against Celtic and Rangers didn’t really count because their budgets and squads are far in excess of what ours are,” added the Hibs manager. Taking any points from those fixtures has long-since been considered a bonus but, while there is no shame in losing to bigger and better-funded sides, Butcher acknowledged that a severely one-sided scoreline could be detrimental with regards the rebuilding work he is responsible for at Hibs.
He said: “It can hurt your morale and it isn’t nice if it affects your goal difference as well. Ours is not particularly good at the moment but, if we can get a nice, solid performance against them, then it would be good coming back from Parkhead knowing the boys did the best they could. And, who knows…What the boys have shown me is a resilience and a spirit – there is more steel about the team. That has to come to the fore on Saturday and I am confident that it will.
“Since I have been here, they have shown tremendous resilience and toughness. They know what to expect. I asked those who had won at Parkhead to put their hands up and quite a few did, me and Maurice included.
“They have good memories and victories and good performances and as a footballer, you tend to hang onto those.”