Neil Lennon will use the chance to turn up the heat on Aberdeen and Rangers as the main motivation for his Hibs side in tomorrow night’s Edinburgh derby – rather than Hearts boss Craig Levein’s ‘natural order’ jibe.
Levein’s comments following the Jambos’ 1-0 Scottish Cup win at Tynecastle in January – which ended Hibs’ run of nine derbies undefeated – angered Lennon as his counterpart suggested the victory had helped “restore the natural order”.
However, the Hibs head coach revealed Levein’s claim hasn’t been discussed within the Easter Road dressing-room since.
Instead, all focus in the intervening period has been on tightening Hibs’ grip on fourth place in the Premiership table – a position they hold nine points ahead of Hearts and with a game in hand – and trimming the gap which separates them from the Dons and Rangers.
Adamant no psychological damage had been inflicted on his side by that late Don Cowie winner in Gorgie, Lennon said: “On the back of a defeat, you want to put things right as soon as you can. But it’s not really been at the forefront of my thinking in the past few weeks.
“We have had a lot of games against very good sides that we have come through very well. We are in a good position and, if we win, then we can put pressure on the teams above us with playing on the Friday night. Rangers don’t play until Sunday and that’s against Celtic, so something could give there.
“We are fourth and they [Hearts] are fifth and we know that if we win we can stretch away and the important thing is we keep close to second and third place with the fixtures they have coming up this weekend.”
A Hibs win would, by the reckoning of many, kill Hearts hopes’ of catching Lennon’s side, but he insisted: “It would give us a healthy lead and we could then look up the way rather than what’s behind you. You can ask me that question if we win. The most important thing is that we go out and perform as well as we can. If we do, then I think we have a right good chance of winning.”
Lennon believes his players need no greater motive than a derby, under lights and at home but hinted he can also use Levein’s words from their last meeting if he so chooses. He said: “I haven’t really spoken to the players about it but I probably will do over the next couple of days and gauge it from there.
“But you can’t get over emotional otherwise it fatigues you mentally and physically. So we will have to be cold, we have to be professional and we will approach the game the same way we have approached very other one. Of course, there are bragging rights for the supporters, I understand that.
“The last one was five or six weeks ago but since then our form has been pretty good. My only concern is that we have not had a game since Kilmarnock. You worry about a wee bit of rust, but it shouldn’t be too bad.”
Lennon described his relationship with Levein as “cordial”, although he insisted his counterpart was well aware he wasn’t happy with what was said in January while revealing he’ll happily enjoy the rival managers’ traditional post-match drink.
Claiming he’d “had enough” over the last couple of weeks without creating any more headlines, he added: “I can’t imagine there will be any fighting, or arguing or bickering. We will leave that to others.
“We will have a beer or a glass of wine, whatever, and we will either drown sorrows or enjoy the win. But very rarely do you talk about the game. If there are any flashpoints, you try to ignore them. We leave that to the players and we will just have a chat.”