Neil Lennon has no intentions of walking out on Hibs and is already planning for next season, his assistant Garry Parker has insisted.
The Easter Road boss put a huge question mark against his future following Wednesday’s 2-1 derby defeat by Hearts, claiming he’d now reconsider his position in regard to his own aims and ambitions. The speculation was fuelled when Lennon both failed to take training at East Mains yesterday and to appear for his scheduled press conference ahead of tomorrow’s final match of the season against Rangers.
Reporters, photographers and camera crews were left waiting for more than and hour and a half after the appointed time as club officials tried to locate Lennon, who was said to have had a constructive discussion with both chief executive Leeann Dempster and the club’s head of football operations, George Craig, on Thursday following his outburst at Tynecastle.
Eventually, Parker appeared to explain that Lennon’s absence was purely down to the fact that he’d been suffering from the flu for the past couple of weeks and, having been woken by his wife yesterday morning, had simply fallen back asleep.
Parker also insisted it had also been the intention that he would take training rather than Lennon, expecting him to turn up at the club’s training centre later in the day.
However, he was adamant Lennon would be back at work today, would pick the team and would be in the home dug-out at Easter Road tomorrow.
And Parker put Lennon’s scathing assessment of his players as being “unprofessional and amateur” as being “just Neil”.
Asked if he agreed with that judgment, Parker said: “We just didn’t turn up on the day. How can you say that when we have been brilliant all season? All season we have been fantastic. It was one game. We went there on Wednesday night knowing that a draw still gives us a chance, and we just didn’t play.”
Why then would Lennon say what he did and might he regret it?
Parker said: “That’s just him – that’s how he is. He’s a winner. He just says it in the heat of the moment. He might regret it. I remember the same situation last year. He said the same thing to the players and came in the next day, called a meeting between him and the players and he apologised.
“I’m used to it. Look, Neil’s Neil. He’s a winner. He says what he says after a game – whether he’s right or wrong.”
While the Hibs players were surprised not to see their gaffer at training, Parker said: “This has happened on many occasions. I’ll take training. That’s what happens. The assistant manager will take over. He’s been ill. I don’t know if you have seen him over the last couple of weeks, he’s been coughing his guts up. So why not take a rest?”
To many, Lennon’s Tynecastle reaction threatens to take the shine off what has been a thrilling season for Hibs. But Parker said: “We both thought we could finish second. You are not going to beat Cetic. Fourth is still a good season, but we are disappointed. We want to win things.
“We had a meeting in here at the start of the season – where can we finish in the league? One person said we could win it. Some others said we would finish in the top six. We were two games away from finishing second. It’s fantastic, one point away from most-ever points.
“The most important thing is we get a result tomorrow. We’re disappointed that we could have been second, we lost to our rivals and we didn’t turn up on the day. We just didn’t play, simple as that. We know we can do better.
“So when you’ve played in a game like that and you’ve lost, what do you want to do? How do you get it out of your system? Next game, bring it on as soon as possible. And it’s against Rangers, who could finish second.”
And Parker was adamant Lennon, who is under contract until the end of season 2019/20, is not considering his future, saying: “I know he’s not.
“I’ll speak to him today about this, we’ll have a good chat.
“We are planning for next season. Get tomorrow out the way and then it’s time to start thinking about rebuilding. We have people doing that. Obviously we are going to lose players.
“The budget is between him and the board, I haven’t spoken to him. We have to recruit.
“We have had a good season. If we are going to lose players, we need to bring quality players in and try to finish higher than fourth. That’s our aim.”