BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON, the Hibernian head coach, is adamant the Easter Road outfit are more than ready to hold their own in the Premiership as they emerge from three years ‘in purgatory’.
Optimism abounds in Leith following the capital club’s title winning Championship campaign, which came just 12 months after they lifted the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years.
Their recruitment has only served to whet the appetite further. More than 12,000 season tickets have been snapped up to watch a side which will include the talents of Ofir Marciano, Steven Whittaker, Efe Ambrose, Danny Swanson, Simon Murray and their most recent, and widely lauded capture, Anthony Stokes.
Little wonder, then, that Lennon has unwavering belief in his team’s ability to dish out ‘a few bloody noses’ in their ambitious bid to compete with Aberdeen and Rangers to be crowned best of the rest.
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been,” beamed Lennon. “We had to do a lot of hard work last year to win promotion and it wasn’t easy. I saw what it meant to so many people in the background. Other than the  Scottish Cup win, this was three years in purgatory.
“We have brought some good players to the club and there is a real feel-good factor. There is no question that the players are ready and can handle the step up to the Premiership.
“I think there is a three tier division. You have Celtic, then Aberdeen and Rangers, then the the rest. I want us to break into that second bracket and compete. I have players here with vast experience of the British and European game, I have international players and multiple title winners.
“The proof will be in the pudding but I’m quietly confident that we can be an outside bet to give a few bloody noses.”
Lennon is no stranger to opening day nerves. With a staggering weight of expectation on his shoulders, he guided Celtic into three campaigns as a manager, subsequently winning five major honours.
The challenge and pressures may be different in Edinburgh – and Lennon more mature and pragmatic – but he has no intention of allowing his standards to dip.
“I am older and have learned from mistakes,” continued Lennon. “There is no such thing as a perfect manager, even though the modern day supporter is looking for the perfect team, the perfect player and the perfect manager!
“You try to get as many aspects of your job right as you can, control the controllables and not worry about the uncontrollables. That is what I have learned more than anything.
“I probably won’t be expected to win every game this time, like at Celtic. But there is still a real expectation here, and rightly so. We will get good crowds, the atmosphere at Easter Road will be tremendous and hopefully we thrive off that.”
Lennon, however, is realistic enough to be wary of a surplus of confidence.
“I don’t like being fancied to do well!” he smiled ahead of today’s visit of Partick Thistle. “And I don’t like making predictions.
“Everyone has said ‘oh, he said Hibs were the second best team last year’ and, after the Scottish Cup semi-final, I felt we were as good as Aberdeen. We were in great form and playing very well. But that was then and this is now.
“It could go flat on Saturday and we could lose the game. I’m aware of that. But I have enjoyed what I have seen so far, from the players competitively over pre-season and can’t wait to get started.”
The threat of having their party crashed is exacerbated by Thistle’s propensity to over-achieve.
Lennon has nothing but admiration for Jags boss Alan Archibald and the way he belied budgets and reputations to secure a sixth spot last term; their highest league finish since 1981.
“They are a really good club now; an established Premiership club,” continued Lennon. “To get into the top six, with the resources he has, was huge.
“He was rightly in the running for Manager of the Year. He’s a young manager who has improved and I think he is rightly sought after. It’s a good fit for him at this stage, but if he keeps progressing it’ll be difficult for Thistle to keep hold of him.”
Anthony Stokes, meanwhile, will be in the match-day squad, while Lennon has not ruled out more departures before the transfer window closes.