Lee Johnson believes Hibernian’s 4-2 victory over Celtic helps prove that he has not been all talk when discussing his “dream” for the Edinburgh club.
The Englishman has spoken bullishly about having the Hibees competing at the top end of Scottish football on a consistent basis since taking charge a year ago.
Although his team have struggled for consistency in his first season at the helm, they have delivered big wins over Aberdeen, Hearts and now Celtic, while also taking a point off Rangers.
Wednesday’s victory over the Hoops guaranteed that Hibs will finish at least fifth in the Premiership – a position that will be enough to qualify for the Europa Conference League if Celtic beat Inverness in the Scottish Cup final – while they have the chance to leapfrog city rivals Hearts into fourth by winning this Saturday’s Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.
“It’s not just about confidence for this weekend, it’s about the future,” Johnson said when asked about the effect of the win over Celtic. “I feel like I’ve been selling this dream and at times we’ve fallen a bit short of delivering it but at times we’ve also proved it.
“The Hearts game at home here was a big result, Aberdeen away even though we drew, Aberdeen at home. We can compete against these guys and that belief has to build.
“The belief in us, the belief in me, the belief in the players, the belief that the fans will stick by us when we are one or two goals down because we can genuinely come back.
“Our next step is to obviously try and secure Europe. We get an opportunity to do that on Saturday and if that doesn’t come to the fore we hope Celtic can do us a favour by winning the cup.”
Hibs became only the third Scottish team to defeat Celtic this term after Rangers and St Mirren also achieved the feat. Johnson believes victories over the Glasgow sides are essential for his team to progress.
“I’ve harped on about getting closer to the Old Firm, taking points off them, and every point you get against those teams is almost like a point and a half in terms of how much it counts for because the others don’t get them,” he said.
“St Mirren have had some really good wins and performances against the Old Firm this year and it makes a difference.
“We have to compete. This club deserves to be competitive in these games and budgets are what, eight or nine times what ours are?
“But that doesn’t mean you can’t get an organised, motivated, hungry, talented XI plus subs out on the pitch and I think you saw that against Celtic.”
Hibs lost both CJ Egan-Riley and Joe Newell to injury against Celtic, and both will be assessed ahead of the Hearts game.
“CJ is struggling,” said Johnson. “It looks like he’s done his hamstring. Joe Newell is looking more likely to be available.”