Hibs boss Neil Lennon insists he has no regrets over decision to go ahead with Hearts clash despite a host of Edinburgh derby absences

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BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport

HIBS boss Neil Lennon insists he has no regrets over his decision to go ahead with Saturday’s derby against Hearts despite seeing his squad decimated by a swathe of absences.

The Easter Road outfit had the option to postpone the encounter when Martin Boyle, Jamie Maclaren and Mark Milligan were selected by Australia for the upcoming Asian Cup, with three international call-ups representing the threshold to request that the SPFL re-arranged a fixture.

It was discussed at boardroom level, but Hibs decided to go ahead with the match. Since then a host of injuries – including key first-team regulars Ofir Marciano, Ryan Porteous and Lewis Stevenson – have left them potentially without 11 players.

However, Lennon still firmly believes the Leith side made the right decision.

“I didn’t feel the need to call the game off,” explained Lennon. “We had discussions about it and some people felt that it would be a good idea to call it off and some didn’t.

“If you call the game off and Australia proceed in the Asian Cup do you then call off the Motherwell game (January 23)? When do you play the derby? You can’t just specify that for the Hearts game and not do it for the Motherwell game and the games after that.

“The game could have been rearranged for January, February, March – whenever – and we could have a raft of injuries then as well. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

“If we lose the game, we lose it – and it won’t be because we did not call it off, it will be because Hearts played better. It is down to us now. I don’t want to dwell on it as the decision was made a couple of weeks ago.

“It would have been the easy thing to do to call the game off but we didn’t, so let’s just play the game.”

Moreover, Lennon has bullishly stated that requesting a postponement would have been a damning indictment to the rest of his squad, while betraying the fans who have had this powder-keg occasion marked for months.

“It is the time of year when people are coming for holidays and from all over the world for the game,” he continued. “It is a marquee game in our season and I think we should play it.

“What message does it send to the rest of the squad if we call the game off because three players are on international duty? Sorry we can’t play without these three? We are not good enough to beat Hearts at home?

“That sends out the wrong message.

“We feel that we have players here who have played at a very high level. We beat Celtic without the three Aussies at home and there are plenty of reasons to think that we can perform against Hearts.

“Get on with it, play the game. That is why we are here and the players will get a well-earned rest once it is over.”

Despite languishing in eighth spot in the Premiership, Hibs can count a victory against Celtic and two draws with Rangers among their last four fixtures and remain unbeaten in six.

All of which imbues Lennon with a degree of confidence despite his army of walking wounded.

And the opportunity to finally ascend back into the top six ahead of the winter shutdown is another carrot for the visit of the Jambos.

“To be unbeaten in three games against Rangers and Celtic is excellent,” added Lennon. “It’s excellent for the mentality of the team and for their level of performance.

“In terms of motivation for a derby – you don’t need any. As soon you walk out and soak up the atmosphere, even in the warm-up, you can feel the extra anticipation in the air. Then they’ll have to play aggressively but be controlled and not to get too emotional.

“It is an important game for us to psychologically get into the top six as we have been hovering around for a while and not getting there. It would be nice to win and finish a marathon month off in good style.”

 
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