BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON insists the prospect of making Hearts boss Craig Levein eat his words is an added incentive for Hibs tomorrow night.
Levein kicked a hornet’s nest with his comments in the aftermath of the Jambos 1-0 victory on January 21, stating that their first win over the Hibees in 10 outings had ‘restored the natural order of things’.
A furious Lennon described the expression as ‘a crock of crap’, ‘disrespectful’ and ‘poor’ – and he has revealed that he will be mentioning those words to his players in the build-up to a mouth-watering Edinburgh derby at Easter Road.
“I don’t think the players need any extra motivation – but if they do, then we can always use that,” said Lennon. “I haven’t really spoken to the players about [Levein’s comments] but I will do over the next couple of days – and gauge it from there.
“You can’t get over emotional otherwise it fatigues you mentally and physically. We will have to be cold, professional and we will approach the game the same way we have approached every other game.
“Of course, there are natural bragging rights for the supporters, I understand that. The last one was six weeks ago but since then our form has been pretty good. There has been no hangover or psychological damage.”
Lennon used the phrase ‘the gloves are off now’ in the tempestuous aftermath of that Scottish Cup exit at Tynecastle. While it was a calmer figure who faced the press corps yesterday, one suspects he is ready to come out fighting.
“Well, you know me. I’m just biding my time,” he said with a smile.
Levein sought to play down the bust-up, describing the comments as a joke; a bit of pantomime between two of Scottish football’s big-hitters. Lennon replied ‘I didn’t find it funny’, sporting a face like thunder.
“Maybe it is psychological with Craig,” he continued. “You will have to ask him that. Sometimes you speak how you feel at the time and sometimes you look back and think ‘I shouldn’t have said that’ but I can’t comment on Craig’s opinions.”
However, with a trip to Hampden already penciled into his calendar next Thursday for a Scottish FA hearing after being sent to the stand in Hibs’ 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock last month, Lennon has little desire to become embroiled in further spats. What promises to be a feisty rematch between the sides could yet end with a civilised glass of red.
“I can’t imagine there will be any fighting, arguing or bickering, we will leave that to others,” smiled Lennon. “I’ve had enough over the last couple of weeks without creating any more headlines!
“We will have a beer or a glass of wine – we will either drown sorrows or enjoy the win, depending on the result. Very rarely do you talk about the game and, if there are any flashpoints, you try to ignore them. We leave that to the players and we will just have a chat.”
On the pitch, Lennon has few concerns. Hibernian have only lost one Premiership fixture since returning from the winter break – against Celtic – and are only four points behind third-placed Aberdeen.
He does, however, confess to a sense of trepidation regarding his side’s lack of action after their last scheduled fixture against Hamilton was postponed, meaning a hiatus of 13 days. In that time Hearts have played twice, while Hibs have struggled to even host a training session on grass.
“We are at home and we will take the game to them at every opportunity,” continued Lennon. “My only concern is that we have not had a game since Kilmarnock. You worry about a wee bit of rust. It is not ideal because we had been playing well and had a bit of momentum.
“But there is nothing we can do about the adverse weather. It has helped us get Whitty [Steven Whittaker] closer to full fitness and has given Boyler [Martin Boyle] the chance to get over his Achilles, but the others are maybe undercooked a little bit.
“We only got on the grass a couple of days ago and we prefer being on the grass than indoors but, again, there is not much we can do about the weather.”