Jamie Maclaren almost missed out through illness but by the end of proceedings it was Celtic feeling sick. The Australian got himself into the right place at the right time to net the opening goal as Hibs won 2-1 at Easter Road and forced Celtic to place the title champagne back on ice.
The triumph also advanced the Leith club’s hopes of catching and leapfrogging Aberdeen and Rangers for second place, keeping them within three points of the Pittodrie side and level with Graeme Murty’s men, who play this afternoon.
But Maclaren, who has been a success since joining Hibs on loan in January, revealed he was a major doubt for the head to head.
“I didn’t travel with the boys to the team hotel because I was sick, I had a stomach bug. But I was in touch with the staff, saying don’t rule me out. I really wanted to play in this game and I woke up on Saturday morning and went for a walk. I felt a little bit better but I had no energy from the start. I wasn’t well but adrenaline kicks in.
“I was honest with the manager before the game. He didn’t want me to let myself or my team-mates down so I told him I’d give him everything for as long as I could. He gave me trust and I gave it back.
“It’s important to have a manager who believes in you and Neil does with me. He gives everyone a sense of belief, whoever you’re playing against. Celtic will be champions but we were the better side today. We know what’s at stake now and it’s important we keep winning, especially at home.”
The victory makes the Hibs challenge impossible to ignore, while the form of both Maclaren, who has now netted in victories over Rangers, Celtic and derby rivals Hearts, and his strike-mate Florian Kamberi have elevated their gaffer’s desire to tie them up on longer-term deals.
Both men arrived in the winter transfer window and while there is an option on the Swiss player’s deal, there is no such clause they can activate in the Aussie’s contract. Which is a disappointment to both manager and player.
“We have an option on Kamberi and the more he plays the more we want do it,” said Lennon, delighted with the input from all his players on the day and well aware of the part played by the January signings in providing the clinical finish that had been lacking earlier in the campaign. “Maclaren could be a difficult one because he’s contracted to Darmstadt. We’re very pleased with what he’s brought – the two of them have been excellent as have the stalwarts.
“Stevenson and Hanlon were excellent as was Ambrose, he seems to play his best games against Celtic. I could not fault any of them and that’s what you need.
“I would imagine there will be a lot of interest in Kamberi but we have the option and at the minute we’re in control of that situation. There’s a set fee. It’s something we’d like to look at but we’ve got four games to go and that will depend on how the season finishes as well, that will dictate how much money we can and can’t spend.”
Maclaren has not given up on prolonging his stay in Leith, though. “I’d love to keep the partnership with Flo going. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly here. Myself and Flo have hit it off. It seems to be that when he doesn’t score I do. We complement each other and I want to continue that. But there’s four games to go and that’s all I’m contracted to Hibs for. That’s all I can think about. It might come down to Damstadt’s position. If they’re relegated, a clause kicks in but it’s outwith my control.”
The 24-year-old has plenty to occupy him while matters are decided, assisting Hibs to finish on a high and securing his place in the Aussie World Cup squad for Russia. “If my performances are good, good things will happen. This could be the biggest few months of my career.”