Hibs must make the sorting out of head coach Neil Lennon’s position a priority, former Easter Road player Craig Paterson insisted today.
Lennon took Scottish football by total surprise in the wake of his team’s 2-1 derby defeat by Hearts on Wednesday night – a result which ended their hopes of finishing second in the Ladbrokes Premiership – by claiming he needed to consider his position.
Although he is under contract for another two seasons, Lennon said he needed to think about “things in general, his own aims and ambitions”. He also branded finishing fourth as being “not good enough”.
Lennon also conceded he might have been “a bit over emotional” in his after-match outburst, interviews with radio and television giving no inkling of to what was to unfold when he came in front of the written press.
While pointing out it would be impossible for anyone to even try to second guess what was going through Lennon’s mind as he also berated his players for being unprofessional, Paterson expressed the hope there was no more to it than a culmination of the frustration of seeing them fall below their standards and seeing the hope of taking that runners-up spot – and with it automatic European football – shattered by, of all clubs, Capital rivals Hearts.
Lennon also disclosed that this season’s star player, midfielder Dylan McGeouch, will be leaving this summer, admitting a lot of work would need to be done in reshaping his squad with question marks also hanging over the future of loanees Florian Kamberi, Jamie Maclaren and Scott Allan, not to mention the interest which is sure to come from elsewhere in John McGinn as he moves into the final year of his contract.
The question of his budget was also raised, the difference in the bonus payment between finishing fourth rather than second amounting to £560,000, the loss of which will have an obvious impact on finances.
However, Paterson insisted pivotal to all those matters was Lennon’s future, something he believes has to be clarified sooner rather than later, adamant that the former Celtic manager continues to be the right man for the job.
He said: “You don’t want these things dragging on into the close season. It’s been a great season, everyone has been enjoying it, the style of football that’s been played to get the results they’ve had.
“Alan Stubbs started it. He did a lot of the work in getting the club moving in the right direction but since Neil came in the club has made massive strides forward. In the big games, Hibs have more than held their own and that comes from the mentality he has instilled.
“To me, the good news about what happened on Wednesday night was the kind of reaction you get from him after a defeat in a derby. Neil is someone that grew up with Celtic in mind but you can see what Hibs mean to him. He knows what the fans want – they don’t accept, or want to accept, second place against Hearts.
“I think what happened was a measure of how upset he was with the performance and the result. I hope that’s all it was.
“Coming up from the Championship, if Hibs had been offered fourth they’d have snapped your hand off but Neil felt they could and should have done better. It was a major disappointment but down to the standards he sets himself.
“He has been used to success both as a player and a manager. He demands that of himself and, to have come up with perhaps less than he expected, he’s been majorly disappointed. Second would have been a terrific feat, but there’s still lots to be proud of.”
Throughout his time at Easter Road, Lennon has repeatedly mentioned how content he has been with life, delighted with the players he’s been working with and more than happy with the support from above which allowed him to bring the likes of Efe Ambrose, Steven Whittaker, Ofir Marciano and, although it ended unhappily, Anthony Stokes to the club.
As such, his apparent sudden questioning of his own future has taken almost everyone connected with the club by surprise but, as far as Paterson is concerned, Lennon remains the perfect fit.
He said: “If you look at the three clubs which, for me, have made massive strides, they are Celtic with Brendan Rodgers, Steve Clarke at Kilmarnock and Neil at Hibs.
“Sometimes you get the right manager, the right fit. I’ve always had the belief that players will make things happen but, at these three clubs, with the right man in charge, they have made massive strides forward.
“Neil has been terrific for the club and the No.1 priority now has to be to get things sorted out as quickly as possible.
“Players want to know if the manager is staying or going. It’s difficult to talk to players about coming – perhaps some who may want to sign because of the manager might be put off. And no player wants to sign and then find out the manager is going. To me, it’s important that this is resolved, to keep the improvement we have seen going and to keep him in place if they can.”
Although Lennon talked of not actually knowing what his budget was for this season – never mind knowing what he’ll have to work with next year – Paterson insisted he’d be well aware that he’d be operating under different financial parameters than he did at Celtic, the Hibs head coach himself insisting only a couple of weeks ago that the Capital club would work within it’s means and not overstretch itself.
Even so, insisted Paterson, Lennon – whose team end the season at home to Rangers on Sunday – could be more than satisfied with the players he has brought to Easter Road, saying: “Very few have not been major successes. Neil quickly makes up his mind. Simon Murray was sent out on loan to develop his career and he may yet turn out to be a top striker for Hibs.
“But he then brings in two unknown players in Kamberi and Maclaren and they’ve given Hibs that bit extra momentum. I wouldn’t pretend to know what Hibs’ finances are, but Neil has spent wisely so far and I think he’ll continue to do so given the chance.”
And while some may feel Lennon’s relationship with his players may have been dented after his criticism of them at Tynecastle, Paterson said: “I’ve no problem with that. He’s been quick to praise them so they cannot complain if they do not perform on that sort of stage in a derby. The manager has every right to expect standards to be maintained so if you don’t perform no-one should complain about getting a rollicking.”