CRAIG LEVEIN insists it was ‘just a laugh’ but Neil Lennon is plainly refusing to see the funny side of the Hearts manager’s ‘derogatory’ comments in the wake of Sunday’s Edinburgh derby.
The Hibs boss bit back at his capital counterpart again yesterday and declared the ‘gloves are off’ in a previously friendly relationship that is now strained by city rivalry.
Lennon had already accused Levein of lacking humility in claiming Hearts had restored the ‘natural order’ of the fixture by winning for the first time in 10 matches with their 1-0 Scottish Cup success.
The Easter Road head coach went further on Tuesday as he suggested Levein had a ‘misguided sense of superiority’ and was guilty of pandering to the masses with comments that he believes could have been straight from a fans’ forum.
Told Levein had dismissed the spat as ‘just a laugh’, Lennon responded: “A laugh? I didn’t find it funny.
“In my time in Scottish football, I’ve seen a lot of people with a misguided sense of superiority in the game – without actually earning it or achieving anything.
“I think he was pandering to the masses with the comment.
“I think it’s derogatory to my club, my players, our supporters and me. And it was very, very poor, in poor taste.
“It’s their first win in four years against us. They should have been grateful and shown a bit of humility. I don’t remember rubbing anyone’s face in it after we won Edinburgh derbies.
“Comments like that come back to haunt you, eventually.
“Whether it will be the next one, the one after that or the one after that, I’m sure our club will be waiting on him.
“I just find it in really poor taste. And it’s pandering. He might have picked it up on a forum – and used it.
“I’m very disappointed, very disappointed. So the gloves are off.”
What further annoyed the former Celtic boss was Levein’s failure to show up for the traditional post-match drink, apparently choosing to head to the Tynecastle boardroom instead of chewing the fat with his opposite number in a move that Lennon believes was a further show of disrespect.
Meanwhile, Lennon, who insisted there had been no movement on a possible loan return to St Johnstone for Danny Swanson, has revealed Anthony Stokes could come back in from the cold for Wednesday night’s trip to Dundee.
The former Celtic striker was left out of the squad for Sunday’s derby – and looked set to be off-loaded this month – after being disciplined for breaking a curfew on a night out during the club’s winter training camp in Portugal.
But the 29-year-old trained with his team-mates on Tuesday and Lennon has urged his fellow Irishman to finally learn from his mistakes after years of wayward behaviour.
Lennon commented: “He’s been in training so he might be in contention to get in the squad.
“I think everyone will be looking for a bit of payback – if he plays. He owes everybody something.
“Eventually, whether I pick him or not, he has to have a good look at himself.
“I’ve been saying this for a long time, the penny either drops or it doesn’t and eventually the game moves on and I have other players to consider as well.
“There has been no more interest in him but that might change over the next 10 days.”