Jozo Simunovic is hoping to reclaim his place in the Celtic side against Hibernian in the Ladbrokes Premiership on Saturday.
The 24-year-old defender replaced Filip Benkovic in the second half of the 6-0 win over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park before the international break – his first appearance since recovering from an ankle problem which had kept him out since August.
Simunovic is hopeful of again being involved against Hibs and expects a tough 90 minutes against Neil Lennon’s side who are sitting second in the table, two points behind Edinburgh rivals Hearts and one point ahead of the champions.
“I see the Hibs game as a big opportunity for me to impress the manager and earn a regular place in the starting XI,” Simunovic told the Celtic View. “But all I can do is work hard and try to improve every day.
“I’m sure it’ll be a good game. Hibs are always playing well and they make it difficult for opponents.
“They are different to many other teams in that they really want to play. We want the toughest tests, though, and this game comes at a good time because it we want to face good opponents before going into the Europa League game next week.
“I’m feeling fit. I felt fit coming into the last game and for sure, my fitness will be even better by the time the Hibs game comes around. Everything is up to the manager and what he decides.
“It doesn’t matter who plays because we have a big squad and everyone is capable of doing what the manager expects. It’s up to us in training to show that we are deserving of a place in the team.”
Celtic assistant Chris Davies is glad to have Croatian defenders Benkovic and Simunovic available and providing competition in defence, the on-loan Leicester stopper returning against Saints after being out since the end of September.
“It’s great to have them back fit, strong and ready to play,” he said. “It’s important that we have a good pool of central defenders to pick from and they have to fight for their place.
“There are some good players there and that’s important because competition is healthy. Hopefully it keeps each of them at a high individual level.
“I’ve been impressed with Filip. We obviously did our work before he came in so we knew all about his qualities. He is very imposing with his size and he’s dominant aerially. He’s good attacking aerially as well, although he hasn’t scored a goal yet.
“He’s a big imposing figure and is technically good on the ball. He can play short and long passes with quality and is a defender who can defend with good aggression. Hopefully with momentum and playing games, that’ll get him really going.”