BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HIBERNIAN head coach Neil Lennon still recalls raising his game during trips to Old Trafford in a bid to prove he was comfortable in the refined company of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane.
While lacking the notoriety of Sir Alex Ferguson’s wonderful Manchester United side of the late 1990s, Lennon has warned his Hibs players that they will be a comparable scalp for every Ladbrokes Championship side that visits Easter Road this season.
The Hibees endured their first domestic defeat of the season on Tuesday night when they crashed out of the Betfred Cup with a 3-1 reverse against league rivals Queen of the South; a display littered with wastefulness and dreadful defending.
It was the sort of capitulation Lennon, a summer arrival at the club, will not tolerate as he seeks to instill the winning mentality which saw him claim three Scottish Premier League championships as manager of Celtic.
Lennon said: “The natural reaction of a footballer comes into it. I went to Old Trafford in my playing days – you are up against Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes.
“You might think ‘it must be easy playing in this team, with Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke up front, Jaap Stam at the back’ but the opponents raise their game.
“I wanted to play against the best. Subconsciously, you want to prove that you can play in that company – and every player in that Leicester team would have done the same.
“At Leicester, we would get a result at Old Trafford and then go and lose to Fulham away because we can’t maintain it.
“Then I went to Celtic and got the flip side of that. Everyone came to Celtic Park to raise their game and at a big club, you NEED to maintain results.
“We are now the big fish in this pond. So we have to make sure that we’re ready for all teams coming and raising their game.
“I’ve seen players go to the Old Firm and die. It takes a certain mentality to go and play for big clubs.
“I respect all players who do it at big clubs, because they have to do it week in, week out – and they find ways to win. That’s what we have to do here now.”
Queen of the South was Lennon’s first real set-back as Hibs boss, given their exit from the Europa League against Brondby largely brought plaudits due to the nature of the performance and narrow defeat on penalties.
Lennon has demanded a response, in terms of the display and mental strength, this weekend when Dunfermline visit Leith.
He continued: “We had this chat. We are good playing against Premiership sides. They get themselves up for that.
“Then against Queen of the South there were lapses in concentration that maybe they wouldn’t make in other games. We have to bring that intensity we would bring to big games to every domestic, day to day, bread and butter game. If they do that, they’ll be fine.
“We have developed an expectation level, off the back of winning the Scottish Cup, and the players should embrace it. They should enjoy it rather than be wary of it.”
Meanwhile, Lennon has confirmed there has been “no movement” in the club’s bid to bring Celtic youngster Liam Henderson back to Easter Road for a second successive season, adding “there is still an interest there and it’s still ongoing”.
And Hibs will also be without Israel international goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, with final paperwork formalities set to be completed next week, meaning Ross Laidlaw will keep him place between the sticks.