JONNY HAYES is standing by to slot in at left-back again as Celtic prepare for tonight’s Europa League last-32 encounter against Valencia at the Mestalla.
Kieran Tierney, who is still working on his fitness after being out for over two months with a persistent hip problem, didn’t make the trip and the Republic of Ireland winger may answer Brendan Rodgers’ SOS once more as the Scottish champions attempt to reverse the 2-0 first leg loss.
Hayes played in the dramatic last-gasp 1-0 triumph over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Sunday after Emilio Izaguirre called off with a swollen ankle injury.
The former Aberdeen star was starting only his fourth Premiership game of the campaign against Killie and he reflected: “In a strange way, a win like that is sweeter than a 4-0 or 5-0 win at home, in terms of the effort and hard work that goes into the game.
“We said at half-time it might take until 88-90 minutes to win the game. We had a game-plan, stuck to it and it came up trumps for us.
“Away from home, you saw the backing we had from the off, two full stands, and for our captain and leader to go and seal the game in the 90th minute, it makes it that much sweeter.
“We worked hard, we had a game-plan that we had worked on for a few days beforehand.
“Sometimes in situations when it isn’t necessarily going your way, it’s easy to think about doing your own thing, but then you remember why the manager is the manager.
EYES ON THE PRIZE…Jonny Hayes takes on Hearts defender Christophe Berra.
“He has the final input and he knows what he’s doing more than any of us.
“We stick to his game-plan and obviously it comes off. Throughout the game, we had periods of sustained pressure, particularly in the second-half and it felt like the goal was coming.
“Killie had a bit of a rally late on, but it felt like we were always in control and it was more a question of when our goal would come.
“From there, it was about defending, Dedryck Boyata and Kris Ajer were great and we got the clean sheet. Given I’m normally much further up the pitch, being pleased about a clean sheet seems funny to me, but it’s great.”
Hayes added: “We don’t enjoy games for long, because as soon as each game is finished, we have a talk and start looking forward to the next one, regardless of the opposition, because you need to start preparing your body and your mind for it.
“The Kilmarnock game is done and dusted, we’ve got a bit of a cushion at the top, but we’ve now shifted our attention to Valencia and will work hard to prepare for that one.
“After that, we’ll work hard at creating a bigger gap at the top of the league table.”
Hayes may get the nod from Rodgers ahead of Izaguirre this evening – even if the Honduran international is fully fit.
The defender had a torrid time of it against the Spaniards in the first leg at Parkhead last week, played them onside for the first goal and was caught off guard for the killer second.
* Hayes was speaking to the Celtic View, on sale now.