WHILE Hibernian face the mighty task of trying to tame a Celtic side who continue to reign supreme domestically, defender Lewis Stevenson is steeling himself for a battle against an individual he regards as the hardest to play against in the Premiership.

The left-back is likely to find himself going directly up against James Forrest, a winger at the peak of his powers. The Scotland international has notched 16 goals, including five in Scotland’s last two Uefa Nations League outings, and been credited with 13 assists for Celtic.

Even Hibs head coach Neil Lennon, who managed Forrest during his time at Parkhead, has been impressed.

“In the last couple of seasons he’s been in outstanding form for his club and now he’s showing it for his country as well and he’s a huge asset,” said Lennon recently.

Stevenson’s unassuming manner off the park is the antithesis of his doggedness to deliver on it. The 30-year-old’s longevity at Hibs – he is in his 14th season which includes working under, and having to win over, countless managers in the

dugout – owes much to the fact that there are few frailties in his game.

However, Stevenson recognises Forrest’s ability to leave defenders chasing shadows.

“He’s [Forrest] been brilliant over the last few seasons,” Stevenson said. “He’s got a bit of everything and for the national team as well he’s been flying. If I do come up against him, I know I’m going to be in for a tough game. On paper, he’s probably your hardest player to play against. He’s very hard to mark. You can’t get too tight or he’ll spin in behind, and if you give him too much time he can go both ways.

“I don’t want to say I’ve done well against him in the past because that could change. You maybe need to double up on him. But they’ve got quality all around the pitch. It’s not just him you need to focus on.”

While Forrest offers familiarity on the flank, Celtic have changed in the middle of the park, with captain Scott Brown now no longer a guaranteed starter. Brown’s recent absence through injury allied to the form exhibited by the irrepressible Ryan Christie, who was forced off injured against Salzburg on Thursday, has led to Brendan Rodgers’ side winning seven of their last nine domestic matches, including the recent Betfred Cup final, since beating Hibs 4-2 in October.

Ominously, they have also scored 27 goals during that period.

“They’ve got attacking threat all through the team,” added Stevenson. “Sometimes when you look at the team, it maybe looks too attacking but it’s been working well for them in recent weeks and we know we’re going to have to bring the best of our game, hopefully they’ll have a wee dip in form and maybe we can snatch something.”

By comparison, Hibs collected three points against Hamilton last weekend for the first time in eight matches. Although nothing is likely to compare to lifting the Scottish Cup in 2016, Stevenson acknowledges that the win at Hope CBD Stadium was cherished.

“It’s the best I’ve felt after a game for ages, it almost felt like a cup win,” he said.

“It was something we needed as a team, not just wanted. These games maybe get passed over when you look at the calendar, but it was a massive game for us and a massive three points.

“It’s not a nice feeling when you’re on a run like that. You feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You keep looking and thinking, ‘where’s this win going to come from, how are we going to get it?’ But we stuck together.”

Hibs took four points off Celtic at Easter Road last season although they did so with the help of Scotland midfielders John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch.

Lennon faced a near impossible task of trying to replace the pair during the summer, while the end of Scott Allan’s loan from Celtic was also another blow.

With January approaching, Lennon admits he is keen to add creative spark to his midfield and has not ruled out bringing out-of-favour Allan back to the club.

He said: “I’ll definitely look at a couple of areas which will help with the way we want to play, and try to find the right type to come in and do that.

“Scott’s under contract and I don’t want to start headlines. He’s a player we like, obviously, but these kinds of players cost a lot of money. But if there was an opportunity there we’d look at it, obviously.”