Craig Levein’s “natural order” claim will provide Hibs with plenty additional motivation ahead of Friday’s Edinburgh derby, according to former Easter Road striker Kevin Harper.
The Hearts manager irked Neil Lennon and his players when, after the Tynecastle side won the Scottish Cup showdown between the teams in January, he said: “I don’t like this idea that Hibs were gaining any sort of momentum and I want to try to restore the natural order of things.”
The comment, made as a nod to the fact Hearts have traditionally held the upper hand in the fixture, sparked an angry response from Lennon who described it as a “crock of crap” and went on to point out that his team hadn’t lost any of the previous nine derbies.
Since the “natural order” fallout, fourth-place Hibs have extended their advantage over Hearts in the Premiership to nine points with a game in hand. Harper believes Levein’s comments have played a part in their recent upturn in form and expects Lennon and his players to be fuelled by a determination to prove a point to the Hearts manager.
“I think the natural order stuff will be a part of Neil Lennon’s team talk for Friday,” Harper told the Evening News. “It clearly riled Neil and he will be making sure his players are reminded of that comment. It’s a big factor in the game for me. If I was a player and the opposition manager said that, it would definitely stick in my mind. “As soon as Craig Levein said it, the Hibs players will have been looking to see when the next derby was.
“They will be seeing this as a great chance to step up to the plate and say ‘look, we’re still the number one team in Edinburgh’.”
Harper believes Levein was premature to suggest that Hearts are on their way to regaining the upper hand in the city.
“I could understand Craig saying that if Hearts had been in the ascendancy over the course of a season, but to suggest it after one game is an absolute nonsense,” said the 42-year-old, who played for Hibs in the 1990s.
“At the end of the day, Hearts have won one derby in almost four years so I don’t think any natural order has been restored. Hibs are still the team in the ascendancy.
“It will definitely fire the Hibs players up for Friday.”