Hibs manager Neil Lennon has admitted he fully expected to see Derek McInnes in the away dugout at Easter Road tonight, revealing his surprise that the Aberdeen boss had spurned the chance to take the reins at Rangers.
Instead, Lennon will be up against Graeme Murty, the Ibrox club’s Under-20s coach, who will now have an extended spell in charge of the first team as the search for a successor to the sacked Pedro Caixinha continues with no apparent candidate on the horizon.
Lennon, however, believes Murty has strengthened his credentials to win the post on a permanent basis – if he wishes to take it – by guiding Rangers to three successive wins, including victories home and away against Aberdeen. Revealing that he’d have jumped at the job if he had been McInnes, Lennon, who stressed he was in no way privy to the former Rangers player’s thinking, said: “I would have expected Derek to be in the dugout tonight. It’s Derek’s decision.
“I’m only surmising, but he had a tough time at Bristol City behind the scenes. When you’ve had that – and I had it at Bolton – you don’t want to be firefighting again. So maybe that’s one of the reasons.
“He’s very happy and in a stable environment at Aberdeen and he’s already turned down Sunderland – which looks like the right decision. It’s not about money for Derek, I don’t think. It’s about the right club and a stable environment and maybe the reason he decided to stay was he was going into the unknown a bit. But I was surprised. They backed Caixinha in the summer and they are the only club outwith Celtic that has those kind of resources. That can be a very powerful draw. If it had been me, I would have taken it. Finish second, you’ve done your job and build from there. But I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. It’s a big, big club and they are difficult to turn down.”
Lennon himself has had experience of being a caretaker manager, put in charge of Celtic when Tony Mowbray was axed before the move was made permanent. However, he insisted Murty is in a slightly different situation.
Lennon said: “This has gone on for a little while now. I knew what I was doing, taking the club until the end of the season. I don’t think Graeme actually has the luxury of knowing what the timescale is so, in that regard, he has handled things very well. If he wants the job, then it’s all about results. If he keeps the results going, then why not? Now there doesn’t seem to be any outstanding candidates, which is strange. Now that Derek has decided to stay, he is in a good position. Whether he wants it or not, I couldn’t answer that.
“I certainly wanted the Celtic job and tried to make a right good fist of it at the time. He seems to be doing the same.”
Murty and coach Jonaton Johansson were at Easter Road on Sunday to cast an eye over Hibs with tonight’s match in mind but the pair left with Celtic two goals up, missing a stirring fightback which saw Efe Ambrose and Oli Shaw score to earn a second draw of the season for the Capital club against the champions, a result which, according to Lennon, has left his players “chomping at the bit”.
Aware victory tonight would pull Hibs level on points with Rangers in the three-way battle with Aberdeen for second place, he added: “Psychologically, it would be good to just win the game, play well. I think it’s a big three points for both teams.”