BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HIBS boss Neil Lennon insists he is no stranger to falling foul of bungling broadcasters after BT Sport were forced to apologise for their ill-judged advertising campaign – and he is determined to have the last laugh once again.
BT Sport, who have exclusive rights to show both Betfred Cup semi-finals, gained widespread attention for all the wrong reasons this week when they released an advert which featured the names of Celtic and Rangers massively out of proportion to their respective opponents, Hibs and Motherwell.
Lennon brushed off the importance of the ‘naughty’ faux pas and accepted the company’s apology. The capital club, meanwhile, saw the funny side as they parodied the ill-judged design in a tweet to promote the fixture yesterday.
Nevertheless, the Northern Irishman would clearly take great delight in upsetting the odds, just like the Hoops did in the 2012/13 campaign when ITV, who had the rights to Champions League at the time, tweeted ‘Bye bye Celtic’ when they were drawn in a group with Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow.
ITV apologised – and Celtic went on to reach the last-16
“I did see the advert,” Lennon smiled. “It was a bit naughty but BT Sport have apologised for it so we’ll leave it at that. It’s much ado about nothing.
“Going into the semis, the general expectation will be that it will be an Old Firm Final but there are two other teams in the semi-finals and myself and [Motherwell manager] Stephen Robinson will have a big say in that.
“The club response was funny. They responded in the right way, with a bit of humour. I’ve had it myself at Celtic when a Champions League draw was made – and somebody at ITV Tweeted: ‘Bye-bye Celtic.’
“So there are a few smart a**** about still, obviously. We got to the last-16 that season, and I took great satisfaction in that. I have a long memory!”
If Hibs are to indeed defy the odds they will need to do what no team has done since St Johnstone in May 2016: defeat the Hoops in a domestic match. That remarkable unbeaten run now stands at 59. However, Lennon reckons that could be a millstone around the neck of the Celtic players.
They came agonisingly close to defeating the Glasgow giants at Parkhead last month, leading 2-1 going into the final eight minutes before Callum McGregor ultimately restored parity.
“There will be an anxiety surrounding [the unbeaten run] the longer it goes on,” suggested Lennon, part of Martin O’Neill’s Celtic side which won a record 25 league games in a row in 2003/04.
“People talk and talk about it and sometimes that can nag at the back of your mind subconsciously – that desire not to lose it. Then you can get antsy. However, it’s up to the opposition to get into a position where they are under pressure. I hope we can do that.”
Lennon did acknowledge the possibility that Hibs would have to deal with the threat of a wounded Celtic team following their 3-0 defeat against Bayern Munich, noting: “There could be a backlash. They will be sore and their pride will be hurt. We have to be ready for that.”
Nevertheless, his unwavering faith in his players is clear. Hibs have been to Hampden six times in the last 30 months and, of the 11 players likely to start against Celtic, nine have at least won the Scottish Premiership title or the Scottish Cup.
“We have players who have been over the distance, whether that be in league or cup,” added Lennon, who will make a late decision on the fitness of Paul Hanlon and Steven Whittaker. “They enjoy the big games and that is why they are here.
“We want to get to finals; I want manage in finals. No-one remembers losing semi-finalists and we don’t want to be watching the final thinking: ‘That could have been us.’”