BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON has described last weekend’s Old Firm derby as a ‘freak show’ but is adamant troubled Rangers cannot be discounted in the battle for second spot.
The Hibs head coach takes his side to face Aberdeen tomorrow as a thrilling fight to be crowned best of the rest goes to the wire.
A triumph will see the capital club, who are currently level on points with the Gers, leapfrog the Dons courtesy of a superior goal difference.
And with the Gers managerless following the departure of Graeme Murty and reeling from a 5-0 humbling against Celtic, the Hibees’ dream of finishing as runners-up to the Hoops in their first top-flight campaign since 2014 is an increasingly realistic one.
However, Lennon confesses that even he struggled to enjoy the spectacle of Rangers collapsing at Parkhead to allow the rampant hosts to claim seven in a row, insisting it is not the same rivalry he remembers as a player and manager of the Bhoys.
He said candidly: “Celtic are a fantastic team, but they’re beatable. Yet they absolutely wiped the floor with Rangers. It was a freak show.
“It got really uncomfortable for me, believe it or not. When the fifth goal went in after 50-odd minutes, I was thinking: ‘This just doesn’t look right.’
” It was a total mis-match. I hadn’t seen anything like that before in this fixture.
“The balance is way off kilter from what we’re used to, it’s not an Old Firm derby at the moment – not what you would really class as a traditional Celtic-Rangers game, because it’s so one-sided.
“I’m not that bothered about it because I’m on the green-and-white side of it! But from a neutral point of view, from a footballing point of view, it doesn’t look right at all. Some of those Rangers players look well short of it. Well short.”
However, he added: “Psychologically, Rangers have had a tough week and they’ve lost Graeme [Murty] as well, and that can be disruptive for the players.
“But you can’t write them off in the race for second. I’m sure everyone there will be looking for reaction, but we can only take care of our own side of things.”
Lennon has been honest in his assessment that Steven Gerrard, expected to be named as Murty’s successor, would be taking a risk if he leaves the relative security of a coaching role with Liverpool’s under-18 side to take charge at Ibrox.
Nevertheless, he reckons ‘things can’t get any worse’ in Govan.
He continued: “If the remit is to finish second next season, with the budget and the support that they’ve had this season, that’s fair. They should have been out of sight in second this season, with the money they’ve been able to spend in comparison to ourselves and Aberdeen.
“I don’t think it will take a lot to turn it around. Because it can’t get any worse. It can’t.”
Lennon, meanwhile, admits that the encounter in the Granite City represents their most important post-split fixture if they are to realise their aspirations to secure second spot.
He added: “Regardless of the game [2-1 win] against Celtic, this was always going to be a pivotal game in the five. You take each game on its own merits but this was, on paper, always going to be one of the most difficult of the five.
“It is important that we don’t lose the game because we don’t want to give Aberdeen a six-point buffer going into the last two games. That would make it really difficult to finish second so we all know what is at stake.”