Hibs boss Neil Lennon has urged his players to ignore the hype building around Saturday’s Premiership match against Rangers, the first time the two sides have met since that historic Scottish Cup final clash 15 months ago.
The Ibrox encounter will be the first top-flight game between Hibs and Rangers in more than five years, a contest hotly-anticipated with the Govan ground putting up the ‘sold-out’ signs almost a fortnight before kick-off.
The events at Hampden as Hibs ended their 114-year quest for the cup in May of last year will no doubt add spice to the occasion as will the presence of Lennon himself and striker Anthony Stokes, scorer of two goals in the 3-2 victory that day, given their Celtic connections.
Steven Whittaker will also be making his first return to Ibrox since quitting the Glasgow outfit as they hit financial meltdown and were plunged into the bottom tier of Scottish football, another factor in what is sure to be a fiercely hostile atmosphere.
As such, Lennon admitted there will be a lot of hype surrounding the game but he insisted: “It means nothing – it’s just noise. You have to play the game, not the occasion.
“We have to go out there 11 v 11 as I am sure we will and play the game accordingly, not to get over-emotional and not get caught up in the atmosphere.”
Having seen his side claim a place in the last eight of the Betfred Cup with a 5-0 victory over Ayr United after defeating Partick Thistle in their first Premiership match following a three-year absence, Lennon is convinced his players are capable of winning at Ibrox but conceded: “We know how difficult it is going to be.”
In the likes of Stokes, Whittaker and Efe Ambrose, Lennon has plenty of experience to count on while he himself is a veteran of many such matches to pass on to the younger members of his squad.
Noting that he’d “won a few times there,” Lennon added: “We know it is always an intimidating and difficult place to go.
“It’s a great amphitheatre for football and the pitch is always in good condition.”
Whittaker and Paul Hanlon are expected to return to the side after being rested in midweek, the former having taken a seat on the bench while Hanlon, who played his first 90 minutes of football in the 3-1 win over Partick Thistle for almost seven months, was given the night off.