BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
PETER HOUSTON insists the biggest difference in Hibernian this season is the presence of “winner” Neil Lennon in the dugout – as he emphasised that the Championship title is theirs to throw away.
The Falkirk manager has seen his side move to within six points of the capital club thanks to an impressive nine match unbeaten run in the league, most recently battering Ayr United 4-1 at Somerset Park.
A mouth-watering clash against the Hibees at Easter Road on March 25 is now looming large, however Houston is refusing to accept the Bairns have now established themselves as the most credible challengers to Hibs.
Indeed, having endured an often fractious relationship with Alan Stubbs last term, Houston took a thinly-veiled swipe at his old sparring partner by claiming the Hibees are better equipped to win promotion with Lennon at the helm.
Houston said: “I think it is Hibs’ to throw away. They are in a very strong position, with a game in hand, and if they even take a point from that then it is theirs to lose.
“The difference between Hibs this year and Hibs last year is down to the manager.
“You see Lenny’s attitude, spirit and desire. I was at Tannadice on Friday night when he was sent to the stand, and he was at it the whole game.
“Lenny has an incredible will to win, a bit like myself – we hate getting beat. It’s something that is built in you. It’s there every single game you play and you get upset when things don’t go your way.
“I can see that Lenny has instilled a bit of that into Hibs. I think last season, at times, they played better football, but they are grinding out big victories this season and I see plenty of the manager in that team.
“That’s for the better, because the only thing that matters for Hibs is getting out of this division.”
The 57-year-old worked as Lennon’s chief scout at Parkhead for seven months and in the latter stages of the Northern Irishman’s four-year reign at Celtic Park, allowing Houston to witness his work at close hand.
“It’s no surprise to me to see them instilling that [desire] in Hibs,” he continued. “Especially having seen him at Celtic Park. Even before that, we had a few verbals when I was at Dundee United – but that is part and parcel of him being a winner.
“Those battles are things of the past now and we get on really well. He probably had the final say in me going into Celtic. if he didn’t like me or thought I couldn’t do the job, then he wouldn’t have had me in there.
“But Neil and [assistant] Garry [Parker] are great guys, were good to me at Celtic and we spoke about a lot of things during my time there.”
While Houston rather understatedly acknowledges ‘first place would be lovely’, his more pressing concern is cementing second spot in the Championship – particularly with the visit of playoff rivals Morton on Saturday.
He added: “I don’t feel we are in a position to say we are the most credible challengers to Hibs, simply because Morton could be higher than us if they win their games in hand – as could Dundee United.”