Neil Lennon has insisted that no matter what happens in tonight’s final Edinburgh derby, a chasm will still exist between Hibs and Hearts, with the Easter Road side going into the game 20 points ahead of the Capital rivals in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
However, the Hibs boss wants to emerge from the clash at Tynecastle with chase for second place in the Premiership table – and with it European football – firmly in their own hands.
Hibs are already guaranteed fourth place following what has been a remarkable return to top-flight football, but such a finish would only bring a spot in next season’s Europa League if champions Celtic were to beat Motherwell in the Scottish Cup final.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Lennon said: “We’ve had the better of the Edinburgh derbies this season, we’ve matched them physically in every game. 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.”
With the fight for runners-up spot still alive between Hibs, Aberdeen and Rangers, Lennon urged his players to give themselves the best possible chance.
“We don’t want to be relying on other teams,” said Lennon. “I said at the start of the season Celtic were out on their own, then there was a second group of Aberdeen and Rangers and then the rest. But we still have a chance to break into that second group and we have two games to capitalise on that, so there’s still everything to play for.”
Hibs need just one more point to bag their highest ever points total, “an outstanding” achievement in Lennon’s eyes but, as always, he’s looking for more. He said: “The players have been outstanding, they have really played well and I think they have entertained and been a shot in the arm to the 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’re not resting on our laurels just yet, if the players play as strongly as they have in the last 17 or 18 matches then we will have a right good chance of guaranteeing European football regardless.”
Hibs’ last league visit to Tynecastle saw them held to a scoreless draw, denied the victory when the match officials failed to spot Oli Shaw’s shot had crossed the line, but asked about the impact those points might have had given the situation Hibs now find themselves in, Lennon said: “It’s gone now. We have made up a lot of ground on teams since then so it’s not even an issue for me.
“There are other refereeing decisions that have gone against us and cost us points, but you can’t dwell on it. We are in a great position and we need one more point for the best total we have ever had and that speaks volumes for the season – but we still want more.”