NEIL LENNON has confessed he was surprised when Steven Gerrard took the reins at Rangers but the Hibernian manager insists his ‘hero’ now looks as if he is in with the bricks at Ibrox.
The duo famously faced each other as players in both legs as Celtic overcame Liverpool 3-1 on aggregate on their way to the UEFA Cup final in 2003, but Lennon always looked up to the Kop legend for what he achieved on the pitch.
As they prepare to face each other in the dugout for the first time at Easter Road on Wednesday evening, Lennon has admitted Gerrard now deserves massive praise for the way he has taken to management, and life, with Rangers, sweeping away the Northern Irishman’s initial scepticism over the appointment.
“I was surprised that he took the job. But, now he’s in there, it looks like he’s been there for a long, long time,” said Lennon, whose own first job in management was at Celtic, but after almost a decade with the club.
“Why was I surprised? Because it’s a very, very difficult job. A big job, and he wasn’t ingrained in the culture of the club.
“He’s a big name himself – and it was a gamble. But he’s obviously got a good level of self belief and he’s making a great fist of it so far.
“It’s a very difficult first job, in particular. Especially coming from the outside in. If it doesn’t go well, where does he go from there? But I think he’s handled it brilliantly.
“I had it at Celtic but I had knowledge of the players, I knew the culture of the club. Steven didn’t have that but he’s handled himself very well, media-wise in particular. He’s been impeccable in the media.
“As a player, well, first and foremost, he’s one of my heroes! As a manager now, he’s getting the best out of that group of players, which augurs well for the future.
“I’ve never seen anyone carry a club like Liverpool the way he did. I mean, a big player in the big games, his record at Liverpool was outstanding, his will to win was outstanding.
“I’ve met him personally a few times away from the game and I just think he’s a great lad. I don’t want him to win on Wednesday night, obviously, but I’m a huge fan of him.”
All the reverence is certain to put aside for 90 minutes as Hibs chase a second ‘Old Firm’ scalp in the space of three days following Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Celtic.
That victory has returned confidence to the Easter Road squad and Lennon is eager to see his players keep their standards up as they approach a run of key games that also includes a second clash with Rangers, at Ibrox on Boxing Day, sandwiched either side by home games against Livingston and city rivals Hearts.
“You’ve got to go in thinking you can win the game, otherwise what’s the point?” he added.
“We’ve taken one huge step forward and now we need to take another. Of course it’s not beyond us. We know we’re capable of beating anyone in this league.
“We’re coming off a bad run, where you’re scratching your head wondering why we’re playing that way. All of a sudden, the shoots of recovery started to show themselves at Hamilton and then we played great on Sunday. But we have to replicate that now.
“So, we’re not shouting from the rooftops about anything. We have to be consistent now and the players have set their marker, and we know they’re capable of doing that.”