Neil Lennon has accused Hearts boss Craig Levein of “pandering to the masses” with his claim that his side’s Scottish Cup derby win had “restored the natural order of things”.
The Hibs head coach reacted angrily to those comments in the immediate wake of the match, accusing Levein of “a lack of respect and humility”.
And his fury was further stoked by Levein then insisting he had no regrets about what he had said, describing it as no more than “a good laugh, wasn’t it?”
Lennon, though, did not see it that way, branding Levein’s words as a slur on Hibs, his players, the club’s supporters and him, adamant he couldn’t recall “rubbing anyone’s face in it” after the Easter Road side had won derbies.
He said: “A laugh? I didn’t find it funny. In my time in Scottish football, I’ve seen a lot of people with a misguided sense of superiority in the game – without actually earning it or achieving anything.
“I think he was pandering to the masses with the comment. It’s derogatory to my club, my players, our supporters and me. It was very, very poor. In poor taste.
“It was their first win in four or five years against us. They should have been grateful and shown a bit of humility. I don’t remember rubbing anyone’s face in it after we won Edinburgh derbies. Comments like that come back to haunt you, eventually.”
Lennon revealed he hasn’t spoken with Levein since the weekend, the Hearts director of football having, he said, headed for the boardroom rather than wait to have the traditional post-match drink with his opposite number.
He said: “He did his media duties. I was then going to go in for a drink and was told he’d gone to the boardroom. He didn’t even wait for me to have a drink, which is his prerogative.
“But, again it’s a lack of respect. I don’t know if other staff were there. I didn’t go in once I knew he wasn’t there. I didn’t really need to speak to the other coaching staff, it’s both managers who need to speak.
“It’s an unwritten rule, win or lose, so that was disappointing as well. That certainly never happened to me in Old Firm games.
“Sometimes you talk about the game, sometimes you don’t want to talk about it. The other manager understands that and vice versa.”
Lennon accepted that sometimes things can be said in the heat of the moment after a match which a manager or head coach may later regret, but he believes Levein had “obviously been sitting on that one”.
Asked if he felt Levein had spoken the way he did as a reaction as a relief to perhaps feeling the pressure of his side having not won nine derbies and also being knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Hibs in each of the previous two seasons, Lennon replied: “I have no idea, no idea.
“We’re all under pressure. We all feel it. We all have our own targets, sentiments and directives to achieve. But I just find it in really poor taste. And it’s pandering.
“He might have picked it up on a forum and used it. So I am very disappointed. I don’t remember saying anything like that after we’d beaten them twice at Easter Road. Comfortably.”
In claiming it was “a good laugh”, Levein went on to say he got on really well with Lennon, but asked if he felt this spat had affected their relationship, the Hibs boss said: “I’m disappointed, so the gloves are off.”
Asked if that meant his opinion of Levein had changed, he added: “I am not going to dwell on it. I made my feelings pretty clear, what I thought and you can read in to that as much as you want.”
While the fall-out from the derby has rumbled on, Lennon was adamant his players’ focus was now entirely on ensuring they clinch a place in next season’s Europa League, Hibs resuming Premiership action against Dundee at Dens Park tonight having gone into the winter break in fourth place – five points ahead of Hearts.
He said: “We talked about Sunday, but there’s nothing really for me to be overly critical with the players.
“Our decision-making in the final third could have been better and they got a bit of luck with the goal, as can happen in any game.
“But I think the players have been fantastic in the derbies, nine unbeaten, losing for the first time in a long time. It’s disappointing to be out of the cup and disappointing the manner of it.
“It had to come to an end sometime, they got a break with the goal, there was a bit of luck involved but it was always going to be a close-run thing.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for and getting a European place will be our sole focus now. We’re in our first year back [in the Premiership] after a three-year absence, but I have been really pleased with our performances. If we can finish in the top four, that would be a magnificent achievement.”