Neil Lennon has claimed he’d take greater joy from winning three points at Parkhead tomorrow than smashing Celtic’s epic 57-match unbeaten run against Scottish opposition.
The Hibs boss insisted the Hoops’ streak, built over a 16-month period, was irrelevant as far as he was concerned as it wasn’t his record and bringing it to an end would make no difference to him.
He said: “It will end at some stage. If we were to break it, so be it. But that wouldn’t make me any happier. It would be a fantastic win and three points, that’s all I am thinking about.”
Lennon admitted he faces a day of mixed emotions as he returns to Celtic – where as a player and manager he enjoyed unbridled success – for the first time, reckoning everyone will be happy to see him but hoping that on the day he falls flat on his face.
“It will be difficult,” he said. “I’ve been back for functions and press duties, but this is work. I have to put that to one side. People say ‘will you enjoy it?’ No, I won’t. Either way it will be difficult to enjoy it.
“But, as long as my team plays well and we get a positive result, then I can come away satisfied. If we win, I’ll not be celebrating. It’s three points and we move on. If we get beat, I’ll be very upset – that’s the standards we set for them.”
Acknowledging Celtic are the best team in Scotland “by a country mile”, Lennon admitted that while his side’s away form this season has been good, they face a much different challenge in that Brendan Rodgers’ players will control the match for long periods.
He said: “We have dominated a lot of games, but that is not going to be the case tomorrow, It’s a different scenario and we are trying to get that through to the players. You can’t go gung-ho and be open because they can counter-attack you and hurt you in many, many ways. We see Celtic play every week and we know that. This is the real thing now, they are going to see it at field level and get a taste of it for the first time in a while. We just have to make sure they are ready for it. It’s about making sure the concentration and fitness levels are up to speed and ensuring we stay in the game. The reward of getting promotion is to go and play the champions in front of a sell-out crowd. It doesn’t get much better than that for the players.
“We are playing the best team in Scotland by a country mile, who are off the back of two fantastic results this week. We have to respect them, compete and not just roll over. I’m hoping we don’t just sit in and kick the ball long and let it keep coming back. We have to be brave in the final third as well. I watched St Johnstone play there a few weeks ago and get a great result. They played really well and probably merited the point. If we can replicate that I’ll be delighted. I like to think we have players who can hurt them. I want to hurt them. I want them to be positive. These opportunities don’t come round very often. Don’t just enjoy it, make the most of it and try to come away with a good performance and a good result.”