BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON is adamant the outcome at Tynecastle will do nothing to redress the ‘chasm’ between the capital clubs following markedly different campaigns in Edinburgh.
Hibs, who are hot on the trail of Aberdeen and Rangers in the race for second spot, boast a 20 point lead over Hearts ahead of Wednesday’s mouth-watering encounter in Gorgie and are unbeaten in the three Premiership meetings between the sides this term.
The Hibees won both league clashes at Easter Road, while a 0-0 draw across the city was best remembered for Oli Shaw’s ghost goal – prompting Lennon to count that as a victory too.
Craig Levein’s subsequent suggestion that ‘natural order’ had been restored infuriated Lennon and, ahead of the denouement of their rivalry this season, he was keen to underline that – win, lose or draw – there is only one dominant team in Edinburgh.
Lennon said: “We are the better team. We could lose tonight, but the league table tells you that we are 20 points clear. Twenty points. That is a chasm. We know how we play and what style of football we play.
“We’ve had the better of the Edinburgh derbies this season. We actually won that game at Tynecastle where we scored a goal that never was, and have matched them physically in every game. We have played really well against Hearts at home in the games.
“The only thing that is at stake for us is three points and we are going to treat it like another game. There is nothing new – this is the fifth time we have played Hearts – and I’m not going to build it into something it’s not.
“Our players have been outstanding this season. They have really played well and I think they have entertained and been a shot in the arm to the whole division. They don’t go out and sit back, they try to get on the front foot and entertain.
“They earn the right to play and when they do, they can really play.
“We are not resting on our laurels just yet and we’ll take stock of things after Sunday but, if the players play as strongly as they have in the last while, then we will have a good chance of guaranteeing European football.”
While Lennon has no doubt about who the force in Edinburgh is, he remains wary of the myriad challenges posed by playing at Tynecastle – from the atmosphere to the much-maligned length of the grass. Albeit he has no qualms about the surface.
He continued: “There is plenty of grass on it, which makes a change! I can understand where Brendan [Rodgers] was coming from but Hearts aren’t going to cut the pitch or make the dimensions bigger to suit anyone other than themselves.
“We’ll adjust to the pitch – you need to adapt. It’s an awkward place to go, it’s not a good playing surface, it’s one of the narrowest pitches in the country and always a good atmosphere. They get good backing at home and it took a very good Celtic side to take their unbeaten record on Sunday.
“We’re under no illusions about how tough it will be.”