BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Falkirk manager Peter Houston witnessed Neil Lennon’s drive and dedication first-hand when the pair worked together at Celtic – and admits his job next season has just got even tougher.
The Bairns boss has described Hibs’ capture of Lennon as “magnificent” and is adamant the capital club will be a stronger proposition than they were under Houston’s old sparring partner, Alan Stubbs.
The 57-year-old worked as Lennon’s chief scout at Parkhead for seven months and, although it was the latter stages of the Northern Irishman’s four-year reign at Celtic Park, he still recalls his devotion to the job and burning desire to improve the Hoops.
A tumultuous stint at Bolton – a financial basket case – followed, however Houston believes plenty of onlookers are guilty of having short-term memories regarding a manager who won three SPL titles, two Scottish Cup wins and secured a place in the Champions League last-16.
Indeed, he reckons Hibs can now be considered favourites to claim the title next term.
Houston told Capital City Press: “During that seven months at Celtic I got to know Neil a little better – and Hibs fans can be sure they have a manager who is driven and works night and day for his football club.
“This is someone who has taken a side into the last 16 of the Champions League. With global finances in football the way they are, no-one should ever underestimate what an achievement that was for a Scottish club.
“People seem to be quick to forget that, people seem to be quick to forget about three titles. He was fantastic for a period with Celtic – he wins trophies.
“My time working with him was towards the end of his spell at Celtic. He had decided that he wanted a change, but he was still totally determined to make sure Celtic got over the line and won the title.
“He brings experience of working in Glasgow, dealing with all sorts of things, and I have a lot of admiration for standing up to all that and continuing to win football matches.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Bolton clearly wasn’t the right move. Maybe he let his heart rule his head. If he knew the position they were in, perhaps he wouldn’t have taken that job on. But he’s a battler, a fighter and thought he could improve them. In those circumstances, no-one could have.
“That shouldn’t diminish what he achieved in Scottish football – it is a magnificent appointment for Hibernian . . . and makes my job harder!”
Prior to working together at Celtic, Houston and Lennon has plenty of run-ins on the touchline, notably in 2010 when the Hoops boss suggested his side were the only team trying to play football during a 2-0 win at Tannadice.
Houston bit back with “maybe he should try it more often if that’s the case. He can come back and talk to me when he’s gone 11 games without defeat and reached the Scottish Cup Final.”
It is a clash he laughs about now, however he is looking forward to plenty of feisty affairs against Lennon’s men next term.
He smiled: “It was funny when I went to Celtic because me and Lenny has a few wee run-ins and some spats when I was Dundee United manager – but that was quickly forgotten.
“I’m always passionate about the team I work for and at that time it was Dundee United. I wanted that team to win and defended them to the hilt. Neil Lennon was a passionate guy too, so he was the same. It happens – and will probably happen again!
“That’s why those confrontations occur and it doesn’t mean there isn’t respect there. It will be absolutely fantastic to pit my wits against him again next season in the Championship.
“I think Hibs will be considered favourites now. They have a good squad, will probably add a couple more and he has already said they need to be tougher to beat – I think that’s sensible. I believe they will be better next season.”
Nevertheless, Falkirk were shock troops last season, losing fewer Championship fixtures than title winners Rangers and finishing above Hibs before dumping them out at the playoff stage.
And Houston is ready to proves his underdogs have plenty of bite again next term.
He added: “This has been the toughest three years to ever be in the Championship, with Hearts, then Rangers, winning the league. Now, we’ve got Dundee United coming down and Hibs with Neil Lennon in charge.
“We enjoyed a fantastic campaign last year but, at the end of the day, we didn’t achieve anything. Our target again will be to reach the playoffs again and see if we can better what we did last season.”