DANIEL STENDEL is adamant too many clubs travel to Celtic Park primarily with damage limitation in mind as the Hearts head coach vowed to go on the front foot at the home of the champions.
The Hoops have been imperious in Glasgow during their recent domination of the Scottish game, with their 2-1 defeat against Rangers in December representing a first home reverse in domestic football since May 2018.
Stendel, approaching the SPFL with fresh eyes, reckons that record feeds into a lack of belief from visiting bosses.
It could be argued that Hearts have fallen into that trap in the past. The Jambos have lost their last eight games at Parkhead with an aggregate scoreline of 26-5, and have not won there in the league since April 2007.
Stendel, however, is steadfast in his assertion they can rip up the record books and has called for courage from his charges on Wednesday – despite their lowly berth at the foot of the Premiership.
“You follow the scores on a Saturday and look for the Celtic game: 0-0, 1-0 Celtic, 2-0 Celtic…in the end, it is always a Celtic win because every team expects to have no chance,” he said. “We do expect to have a chance and we want to play our style against Celtic.
“When you go there and just hope Celtic don’t score then you can be hoping for a long, long time. Every team would like to win but, at first, a lot of teams just don’t want to lose.
“The game starts 0-0 and I want us to try to go for three points.
“We know we are playing against the best team in Scotland, with a very good offence, but we have shown before that we can win against Rangers, so why not Celtic?
“We need some special days but when we are concentrated and have the courage to do what we want, then we have a real chance.
“If not, then you just go to Glasgow, look at the stadium and go home with nothing – that can not be our mentality.”
With a relegation six-pointer against Hamilton on the horizon following the Celtic clash, Stendel added: “I have had the questions ‘is this game more important than that game?’ In our situation we cannot say things like that. We have tough games in the next 14 days and we need points wherever we can get them – even against Celtic away from home.”
If, as Stendel contends, some clubs do travel to Parkhead with parking the bus in mind, the threat of Odsonne Edouard may explain that mentality. The Frenchman has scored 24 goals this term and, with 12 of those coming in his last 14 outings, appears to be getting better with every passing game.
But Stendel wants his Hearts players, who have conceded six times in their last two Premiership fixtures, to be inspired by the challenge of halting Scotland’s most potent attacker.
“It’s a good contest for everyone on the pitch to say: ‘Against me, he does not score. Against us he does not score!’” smiled Stendel.
“Everyone on the pitch needs to have the feeling that they are not alone. When it’s one against one then maybe we are not the better team, but if we can make it 11 versus one every time, then we are better.”
While Hearts seek a way to quell the irrepressible Edouard, Stendel could find inspiration at the other end from Jamie Walker, who has looked reinvigorated in his recent cameos from the substitutes bench for the Gorgie outfit.
He was the driving force behind the Jambos coming back from 3-0 down against Kilmarnock to narrowly lose out 3-2 and was bright once again in Saturday night’s Scottish Cup victory over Falkirk.
The no-nonsense German has revealed he held talks with Walker to outline his stringent demands and expectations and believes the talented attacker has responded in the perfect manner.
“We have had a chat,” said Stendel. “I’ve heard so much about how he can be an important player for our team and I expect more from him in training. I think he understands and he’s showed in the last two games he can help us.
“We need our best players on the pitch and, when he plays and trains like he has, Jamie is one of the best players.
“I want to see that he has the ambition to play. In the past he’s got a lot of goals, he was an important player in possession and in offence.
“But our game is intensive and we need everyone to push. I have the feeling he understands that.”
Stendel will make a late decision on the fitness of John Souttar as the Scotland international battles an ankle complaint and, while Aaron Hickey has returned to light training this week following a groin issue, the journey west will come too soon for the precocious defender.