Neil Lennon has defended Hibs’ right to chop Rangers’ ticket allocation for next month’s Easter Road showdown and branded the Ibrox club’s response “crass”.
Gers fans usually get the entire South Stand – just short of 4000 seats – when they visit Leith, but the hosts this week decided to make half of the traditional away end available to their own supporters in the wake of high demand for the clash on Sunday, May 13 which could have a significant bearing on who finishes second in the Premiership.
Rangers hit back with a statement on Tuesday night which claimed Hibs’ stance “beggared belief” and implied that it was a slap in the face to “the most loyal supporters in the country”. It finished off by referring to Hibs as “this particular club”.
“It was a bit crass really. They didn’t even get the day right, for a start,” said Lennon, referring to the fact the statement initially said the game was on Saturday. “But they do like a statement! We will do what we have to do and what’s best for our club. And our allocation at Ibrox isn’t exactly chock full either. We could do with more Hibs fans there but we only get 800-1000 in a stadium of 48,000. We get one or two per cent of the stadium.”
Rangers’ statement also hinted at concerns about the safety of the travelling support, which Lennon felt was irresponsible.
“I’m not aware of any violence around Easter Road in my two years here,” said the manager. “I don’t know what they are talking about. I just didn’t think it was worded correctly from a club of that standing – but it didn’t surprise me.”
Lennon believes Hibs were well within their rights to respond to high demand from their own supporters for a match which could decide where they finish in the league.
“We are delighted we’ve got the game at home and there’s a demand for tickets for our fans,” he said. “It could go right to the wire so we might need all the support and every advantageous position we can get. Celtic had a big crowd there last weekend and it didn’t affect us. But what it does is give the Hibs fans more of a chance to come and see us in the last game of the season. There is a big demand for tickets at the moment, which is great, and the club have used their prerogative to meet that demand.”
Hibs can secure a top-four finish today if they win their penultimate home game of the season against Kilmarnock. Key midfielder Dylan McGeouch is set to wear a protective mask against the fifth-place Ayrshire side after suffering a facial injury. “Dylan has a slight fracture under his eye socket and he’s been to see a specialist,” he said. “We are waiting on a mask for him to play in this weekend. If you see a guy looking like Zorro you know who it is. It shouldn’t hinder him too much but we will make a decision before the game.”
Meanwhile, Lennon has played down reports linking Hibs with a summer move for out-of-contract Hamilton Accies midfielder Ali Crawford. “It’s complete speculation. I pay a compliment to a player and then we are in for him?” said the manager, with reference to the fact he praised Crawford in his role as a BT Sport pundit before Accies’ match with Celtic recently. “There’s nothing in that at all. I won’t be talking about players coming and going between now and the end of the season because I want all the focus to be on our games. We are working behind the scenes to improve things but I will not be saying anything before the end of the season.”