NEIL LENNON expects Hearts to provide a more robust challenge under Craig Levein but has backed Hibernian to go toe to toe with their rivals in tonight’s Edinburgh derby.
Hearts were accused of capitulating without a fight as the teams met in their previous meeting, when Hibs cruised to a 3-1 success in last season’s Scottish Cup replay at Easter Road.
Lennon believes the studied approach to the encounter taken by Ian Cathro and his team will be replaced by a more pragmatic attitude as Levein seeks to arrest a run of seven derbies without victory for the Tynecastle side.
However, whilst past Hibs line-ups may have struggled to match their bitter rivals’ strength of mind and body, Lennon is confident he has the players who can stand up to whatever their opponents throw at them this evening.
“I expect Hearts to be mentally and physically stronger,” he said. “Craig knows these derbies far better than I do and he knows what it takes to win them.
“I expect the game to be physical and to have a good tempo. Under the lights there is always a bit more added to the atmosphere.
“I want my players to earn the right to play. If the game is going to be feisty and gets turned into a physical battle I want them to be ready to stand up to that.
“They can do that and we have proved that already this season against really strong opposition.
“Hearts are rugged and grinding out results and that is what Craig brings.
“Craig gets results and we will have to force the issue if we must and put them under pressure when we can.
“If that means mixing it up physically as well as playing football then we can do that.”
Although Hibs will take confidence into the game from being unbeaten in seven derby matches in over three years, they also go into the match on the back of just two wins in their last nine outings.
He added: “It’s a home derby and it will be a full house. They don’t have too much time to dwell on things and they are chirpy again.
“We are not far away from being a very good side at this level. But we have to maintain that consistency and level of performance.”