BY IAIN COLLIN –[email protected]_sport
PETER Houston insists there will be no shortage of passion in the dugouts at the Falkirk Stadium this weekend as he renews his rivalry with Neil Lennon.
And he fears his counterpart’s unwavering will to win could make Hibernian ‘formidable’ opponents in the season ahead.
The pair were involved in some heated exchanges when Lennon was Celtic manager and Houston was prowling the same touchline during his time at Dundee United.
On one notable occasion, after a 2-0 victory at Tannadice in April 2010, Lennon suggested his Hoops players were the only ones trying to play football.
Houston responded by quipping that his opposite number – then still officially a caretaker boss – should “come back and talk to me when he’s gone 11 games without defeat and reached the Scottish Cup final.”
Houston went on to win that final with United but Lennon also proved his managerial credentials during the following four seasons in charge at Celtic, winning three league titles, two Scottish Cups and taking the club to the group stages and last 16 of the Champions League.
As they prepare to clash again in different colours on Saturday when the Championship kicks off with a bang, Houston – who subsequently worked under Lennon as a scout at Celtic – is adamant any fall-outs have been long forgotten.
But the Bairns boss insists the desire that lay behind the spats remains the same.
He said: “Both of us were quite new to management at that time. If you remember, I had been an assistant for a long, long time.
“But when we did have a run-in – and we can have a laugh about it now – it told you that he’s a passionate man, desperate to win football matches.
“And anybody who knows me knows that I’m every bit as passionate. He wanted the best for his team and I want the best for my team.
“But I’ve got huge respect for him. Anybody who has taken a team like Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League, with the resources they have, compared to the Barcelonas and such like, commands respect, in my opinion.”
Falkirk pipped Hibs to second spot in the Championship last season and then ended their promotion hopes in dramatic style by winning the teams’ play-off semi-final.
With a win apiece and four draws over the course of the campaign, there was very little to choose between the sides.
However, Houston, who was not short of his run-ins with Lennon’s predecessor, Alan Stubbs, believes his players will come up against more difficult opponents now the Easter Road outfit are under new management.
He added: “Neil will add things to that Hibernian squad, in my opinion, which will make them harder to beat.
“He’s a passionate man, who is a winner himself, and what every manager tries to do is instil that into the players that work under him.
“If Hibs can add that they’ll be a formidable team this season.
“Neil and (assistant) Garry Parker are experienced, they know the game inside out and they work hard at it.
“I don’t think it’s helped us in any way that they have appointed a manager as good as Neil Lennon.”