Marvin Bartley has insisted Hibs boss Neil Lennon was wrong to brand his players “unprofessional” and “amateurs” in the wake of the derby defeat by Hearts which ended the Easter Road outfit’s hopes of finishing the season in second place.
Lennon hit out after watching his side turn in a poor performance at Tynecastle, losing 2-1 to their arch-rivals, a result which means they’ll end up fourth barring a 6-0 win at home to Rangers in tomorrow’s final match.
While sharing their manager’s bitter disappointment, Lennon’s players were taken aback, surprised and shocked at his reaction, Bartley adamant those who had spent three years playing Championship football could walk away with their heads held high at what they’d achieved in their first season back in the top flight.
Lennon wasn’t at the club’s East Mains base yesterday, his assistant Garry Parker revealing he was in bed ill although it had always been his intention that his No.2 would take training, meaning the players, who’d been given Thursday off, hadn’t seen him since his unexpected outburst.
Asked what had been the players’ reaction to Lennon’s after-match press conference in which he’d also stated he’d be reconsidering his position at the club, midfielder Bartley, an unused substitute in Gorgie, said: “We can’t do anything about that, the manager is his own man.
“If that’s the route he wants to go down and the decision he wants to make, that’s down to him. As players we need to get on with our job because we have a game tomorrow.”
Bartley, however, made clear the unhappiness within the squad at Lennon’s remarks, the 31-year-old saying: “We are a very professional group. I have been in changing rooms that are not so.
“So, yes, it’s disappointing to be branded as unprofessional and amateur because we are not that, we are a good group of lads. Sometimes we’ll perform well and sometimes we won’t. We’ll win games and we’ll lose games.
“I don’t think an amateur group or an unprofessional group could go and beat Celtic or go to Ibrox and beat Rangers, go up to Aberdeen and draw.”
Amid the disappointment of having the hope of finishing second ended by their bitterest rivals, Bartley insisted there was still much to admire about Hibs’ season with the possibility of earning a record points total still up for grabs, just one more needed to achieve that target.
He said: “Even if we don’t, I think we can walk away at the end of the season with our heads held high. We’re fourth in the league, we have just been promoted from the Championship.
“I think people need to look at that. We still have a chance of Europe if Celtic win the cup, but it would be a productive season with or without Europe.
“The mood was flat straight after the game. The lads were disappointed to lose, as we are with any game, but especially with that one. So we’re a bit down.
“But it’s back to work as normal, looking forward to tomorrow’s game and the most important thing is trying to break the points total.
“I think finishing in the top four in our first season back is a productive season and the lads have done well. It would be nice to set a new points total but, even if we don’t, we can still look back with a lot more positives than negatives.”
Having insisted all season he’d viewed the Premiership as being broken into three groups – Celtic, followed by a second tier of Aberdeen and Rangers and then the rest, Lennon ultimately dismissed fourth place as “not good enough”, another statement which Bartley found bemusing. He said: “You would have to ask the gaffer what he meant by that. Maybe he had a different position he wanted us to finish in or what he expected at the start of the season as to what we thought was acceptable.
“A lot of things are said in the heat of the moment after a match. It was a disappointing performance, we have lost to our arch-rivals, emotions are running high. Sometimes you say things maybe you don’t mean. But only he can answer that question.”
Bartley insisted he and his team-mates will be doing all they can to send their fans home happy tomorrow but, as a player who scored the last of his nine career goals in November 2014 playing for Leyton Orient, he underlined the chances of beating Rangers 6-0 by joking: “Can I score?
“Listen, we’re just going to try and win and what will be will be. Stranger things have happened, but not many stranger things.
“We’ll give it our all and try and put on a performance to the fans who have backed us all season.
“There will be a sell-out crowd so we’ll go out to try and set that points total and win the game.”
And when the dust finally settles, Bartley insisted the overall opinion will be that, in fact, it has been a good season for Hibs. He said: “I think it will be. You look back at it and consider it took us a few years to get out of the Championship. We’ve now come back up to the Premiership and we’ve finished inside the top four.
“I don’t think too many people can look at that and think it’s a disappointing season. You saw the cup runs we went on and the fact we won the Scottish Cup when we were in the Championship.
“I don’t think our ability was in doubt, it was just getting out of the Championship which is a tough league to get out of because so many teams are defensive.
“We expected we could come up and do similar to what we have done.
“We’ve fallen at the last hurdle in terms of trying to finish second, but we are happy with the way the season has gone.”