Neil Lennon says Hibs will be ready for any possible underhand tactics at Tynecastle tonight, joking: “We’re giving our players cricket boxes just in case.”
However, the Hibs boss insisted to suggest Hearts indulge in “dirty tricks” following striker Steven Maclean’s clash with Eboue Kouassi during Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat in which he appeared to grab the Celtic midfielder’s privates was doing Craig Levein’s players a disservice.
MacLean has been left sweating on a possible two-match ban in the wake of the incident after being issued with a notice of complaint by the SFA’s compliance officer, although he will be free to play in the first Edinburgh derby of the season, one in which table-topping Hearts will seek to stretch their advantage over their Capital rivals to 11 points.
“I would probably have rolled over in pain,” said Lennon when asked how he might have reacted to falling victim to such an action. “It’s just cheeky, isn’t it? I don’t think there is any malice in it. Under the rules it’s not supposed to be the done thing, but I don’t think Kouassi was too impressed.
“I don’t think I would have been impressed either. It was cheeky.”
Asked if he’d be warning his players to be on their guard for any dirty tricks, Lennon said: “You’ve got to be prepared for any eventuality. I think you do Hearts a disservice. They are a strong team who are very strong on set plays as well. Craig has them well drilled.
“Defensively they are excellent. So they are a very competent team. Yes, they cross the line but no more so than other teams. We have to be prepared to be ready for that, stand up to it and get on with it.”
Hibs haven’t won in Gorgie since goals from Leigh Griffiths and Ross Caldwell earned them victory more than five years ago and Lennon admitted he’s anticipating a tough match, adamant that the tightness of the Tynecastle pitch makes it difficult for any visiting side.
Pointing out Hearts haven’t been beaten on their own ground since May, he said: “They have taken Celtic’s scalp, Aberdeen. They are very strong at home so we are going to have to be as strong and as resolute at times and try to pick our moments to make things happen.
“Hearts have done very well. They have been very impressive. They’re winning games which is a nice habit to have. We go into the game as underdogs, but we will look forward to it.
“The tightness of the pitch is what makes it a difficult place to play. You have to go there and, at times, scrap it out. It’s legal, it’s within the rules of the game. They can set the pitch up any way they like. The playing surface is excellent, there are no excuses there. Other clubs have plastic pitches which gives a them a huge advantage.
“There are tight plastic pitches as well. Every club has the prerogative to set the dimensions of the pitch or the conditions any way they like. We don’t have an issue with it at all.”
Lennon rejected the suggestion Hearts ever-growing injury list, top scorer Steven Naismith the latest casualty, might tip the game in his side’s favour. He said: “Not really. They’ve got a big squad and we’ve got plenty of injuries,
“We’ve had major players out like Paul Hanlon, Darren McGregor, Ofir Marciano and Jamie Maclaren for a long time. Maybe they are a victim of their own success with the number of games they have had.”