JOE Newell is still getting stick on social media for having the temerity to suggest that Hibernian deserved a penalty the last time they played Rangers at Ibrox way back in December.

The midfielder felt he was kicked in the head by Ianis Hagi in a Premiership match the home team won 1-0 thanks to a goal from the Romanian playmaker.

Match official Willie Collum, though, was unimpressed with the visiting players’ appeals and declined to award a spot kick.

Newell is not, then, expecting referee Nick Walsh to do Jack Ross’s team any favours when they take to the field in Govan once again this afternoon.

“I still get abuse on Twitter every now and again for diving,” he said. “I definitely felt something, so I don’t know whether I’ve headed the ball and he’s booted the ball from the other side or what.
“It’s one of them where if it was on the halfway line, the referee would give a free-kick for a high foot. But you might need to get punched on the side of the head to get a penalty.”

The English midfielder, though, still feels that Hibs can end Rangers’ unbeaten league run and kill off their opponents’ hopes of becoming “Invincibles”. 

“It’s massive for us,” he said. “Rangers have had an unbelievable season. They’ve been brilliant and thoroughly deserve the title, but you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to go there and break their unbeaten season.
“That’s something we all want to do. We’re in good form and I don’t think the fact that the title’s wrapped up and they’re playing for nothing will really affect them. Their standards are that high that they’ll be good and competitive regardless. It should be a good game.

“Our first home game against Rangers, when we drew 2-2, gave us confidence the last time we went to Ibrox. We know if we put in a performance we can mix it with the. They’ve been a good team and deserved the title, but we did well there the last time. Hopefully we can go one better and get a win.”

Newell and his team mates are currently in third place outright in the Premiership and the 28-year-old is keen for them to end the 202021 campaign as best of the rest outside the Glasgow clubs. 

“Finishing as high as we can in the league was a target at the start of the season,” he said. “Third would represent a good season. The club hasn’t finished in that position for 16 years so it would reflect a good season.

“Outside the Old Firm we’re the best team at the minute and we just need to maintain those levels to get it.”

The former Peterborough and Rotherham player has only been on target once all season – in a 3-0 triumph over St Mirren in Paisley way back in September.

But he is confident that Kevin Nisbet, who won his first Scotland cap during the international break when he came on in the Qatar 2022 qualifier against the Faroe Islands last month, will be able to convert any chances Hibs create against Rangers.

“Kevin’s had a brilliant season,” he said. “To make the step up, it’s looked completely natural to him, it hasn’t fazed him whatsoever. A big strength of Kevin’s is his mental strength, his self-belief and his confidence.
“You see that in his play. If he misses, he doesn’t care, he’ll shoot again. That’s a great quality to have in a striker. His all-round play is very good, he can do every single thing you’d want a striker to do, be it linking, running behind, working hard, his finishing.
“He’s been brilliant for us this year and I really hope he gets into the Euros squad because he deserves it. He’s been one of the best strikers in the country.”
Asked how far Nisbet can go in the game, Newell added: “Hopefully he can take Birmingham to the Champions League if they come back in for him! He’s got a bit of everything and could play at any level he wants to. He’s got a great attitude, he’s got that selfishness that strikers need.
“This is his first season in the Scottish Premiership and he’s only going to get better the longer he plays at a higher standard. We’re obviously lucky to have him, the club did well holding on to him in January, and for however long he is here, he’ll continue to benefit us as a team.”