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Celtic take on Hearts today evening (19:15 hrs) at Parkhead in the third round clash of the Scottish League Cup. Jambos have gone off to a swimmingly good start, winning five out of their six league games while Hoops have just one win to their credit across all competitions.
Celtic suffered an embarrassing exit at the hands of Morton last season. They otherwise have an excellent record, winning the League Cup 14 times, the most recent being in 2009. Hearts have won the cup four times, and were finalists at last yearâ€™s competition.
The pressure is on Ronny Deila to end the winless drought or his manager job may be in jeopardy. He is confident the side will bounce back in this game, and said that the Scottish League Cup is an important milestone in their goal to win the Treble.
Celtic drew 1-1 in their latest game against Motherwell last weekend, where Deila made six changes. The side was missing winger Mubarak Wakaso and midfielder Stefan Johansen; they are expected to play in this game. However, Mikael Lustig, Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Adam Matthews are out with injuries. Striker Leigh Griffiths is expected to play. He has not played in the squadâ€™s recent games and rumours of a possible move to Hibernian F.C have been floating around.
Celtic captain Scott Brown admitted that the squad has had a rough start to the season, but believes they can shrug off the poor performance in the upcoming games. He said that the side will start playing as a cohesive whole more comfortably once the new players settle down.
A home game typically serves as a morale boost, but by Celtic assistant manager John Collinsâ€™ own admission, the crowd will most probably be modest. He also admitted that Jambos have been playing well, and is pinning his hopes on Griffiths to deliver the goods.
After their 5-1 demolition of Cowdenbeath on Saturday, Jambos are confident of extending their winning streak to Parkhead. Coach Robbie Neilson is however taking a cautious stand. He said that the game against Celtic was just another one they must win to maintain their upper edge. He also admitted that the Hoops were favourites to win the game, which means his squad will have to perform at its best. Midfielder Sam Nicholson and left-back Kevin McHattie are expected to play after sitting out during the Cowdenbeath encounter.
In the past couple of weeks, the side has seen an influx of new players, many of whom have considerable experience playing at a level higher than the second-tier theyâ€™re currently playing at. The clubâ€™s turnaround has been eventful and under Neilson, emerged as one of the favourites to win. If they defeat Celtic, a league above them, they will have only Rangers in their sights; Jambos are currently leading Rangers by four points. If Hoops bounce back against them, Neilson will have to work harder to maintain his squadâ€™s top position in the league so far.