BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Neil Lennon insists city rivals Hearts are the benchmark for Hibernian as he attempts to mastermind an escape from the Championship.
The 44-year-old endured a tumultuous relationship with the Gorgie club during his years as a Celtic player and manager, with the Northern Irishman always assured a ferocious welcome at Tynecastle.
That went too far in May 2011 when he was infamously attacked on the touchline by a supporter.
And while the thought of taking his place in the dugout for an electric Edinburgh derby is not foremost in his mind, Lennon does believe he can look across the city for a perfect example of how to escape the Championship quagmire in style.
Smart recruitment, consistency with selection and a roaring start to the campaign were all key as the Jambos claimed promotion at a canter, posting a record second tier points total in the process under Robbie Neilson in 2014/15.
Lennon said: “Going back to Hearts isn’t my focus. We’d love to have those games back but we’ve a mountain of work to do before we can get to that stage.
“But Hearts, when they went up a couple of seasons ago, were really convincing. That’s a really good template to look at. We’ve already been discussing what they did and how they went about it.
“They recruited well, had a settled team and won the league convincingly in the end. It was seamless and that’s what we’re going to try and do here. They did it without a lot of fuss.
“If we can do that we’ll build from there, but we’ve got 36 games to go first. It’s important we make a good start to the season. There will be ups and downs but it’s about how we deal with the negativity or losses. That’s down to me getting the mentality right.”
Lennon, with a managerial pedigree which includes three SPL titles with Celtic, two Scottish Cup wins and a place in the Champions League last 16, has dismissed the notion that he is taking a step down.
His last position at Bolton ended in March, when he left the club at the foot of the Championship and toiling under debts of £173 million. He notes: “They were selling parts of the training ground, offices at the stadium and chunks of the car park to make ends meet.”
While some have suggested swapping the English Championship for its Scottish counter-part his a retrograde move, he Brian Clough’s decision to drop down a division to build a dynasty at Nottingham Forest.
He continued: “I was looking at Brian Clough’s career. He has 44 days at Leeds, the champions of England. He left to go to the First Division with Nottingham Forest.
“Eddie Howe left Burnley to go to Bournemouth and he hasn’t done too badly. Rafa Benitez was managing the European Cup winners at the start of the season, now he is in the Championship. You just don’t know where your career will take you next.
“People might say I could keep Bolton up one year but couldn’t maintain it. Others might look at results and say ‘what’s happened there?’ But there were other factors to it and I still believe I am a very good manager and I hope to prove that at Hibs.”
Lennon, who confirmed he “wants to keep” stalwart defender Paul Hanlon as contract talks continue, lauded the quality at Easter Road, insisting Dylan McGeouch, Jason Cummings and Darren McGregor are among a swathe of players who can play at a higher level.
However, he reserved special praise for John McGinn, admitting that he has considered a swoop for the player in the past. And he intends to help the Scotland internationalist develop further next term and develop a goal streak.
Lennon added: “I liked John McGinn. I’m very please he ended up at Hibs because he is definitely a Premier League player.
“He is only 21, so for him to get a Scotland cap playing at this level speaks volumes for the season he has had. He will naturally progress even more as he continues to play regularly.
“I believe there is far more to come from him. I think he can weigh in with a few more goals. I believe he has more goals in him than he showed last season but his overall game is very strong at the minute.”