Hibs striker James Keatings has warned his team-mates that new boss Neil Lennon will bring a “fear factor” to the Easter Road dressing-room because he won’t accept his side drawing matches, far less losing.
Keatings worked under Lennon as a youngster at Celtic Park and, although he believes the arrival of the former Northern Ireland internationalist is a “massive statement of intent” from the Capital club, he’s expecting a different style of management to that of Alan Stubbs.
Keatings, inset, said: “I know what he is like. He is a winner, he’s demanding and he won’t accept us being beaten or even drawing. I know for a fact he will have the boys on their toes and he will have us ready,
“Alan did a great job for us and he has moved on to a massive challenge down south. It’s a great opportunity for him and the boys wish him all the best and hope he does well. But with HIbs, Neil is a great manater to get. It is a massive statement of intent. The boys are all excited to work under him and see what he brings to the team. It is going to be good.
“He has managed with the top team in the country, he has managed in the Champions League in the last 16, so he brings a lot to the changing room. I think he knows himself how much he can improve certain players and I am sure if he sits down and chats to them he’ll put that across.”
As well as helping persuade players who might be in demand from elsewhere – Jason Cummings only this week being linked with a move to Turkish club Trabzonspor – stay at Easter Road, Keatings believes Lennon will help attract “some big players” given his status within the game.
Lennon has already shown he’s not one to mince his words, branding the Hibs sides he faced as a player as “a boy band.” But, while Keatings believes Lennon wasn’t necessarily speaking about the current team, he admitted things will be markedly different under his old boss.
He said: “Alan and Neil are both man-managers and they are winners. Alan was a bit more chilled. Neil obviously has the fear factor. When he walks in you can feel it. He has that about him where you are brought back a wee bit by it. I was a young boy at Celtic when he was there and when he walked into the changing room he could silence it, so he has got that about him.
“I don’t know what to say about the boy band comment. He was talking about when he played against Hibs although there are a few of our boys who could fit into a boy band now like Jason and Danny [Handling]. He has seen Hibs and he is going to come in and want to change that mentality.
“That is the way he is, in training he wants us at 100 per cent, and the same in games. This is a massive club and he wants to come in and make it even bigger and get his point across. He will want to make it a tougher and stronger bunch.”
Keatings believes the scenes which followed Hibs’ historic Scottish Cup triumph, 150,000 people turning out on the streets of Edinburgh to watch the trophy being paraded the following day, simply underlined the potential within Easter Road and feels both that euphoria, allied to the disappointment of losing the League Cup final and missing out on promotion, will help drive him and his team-mates on in the coming season.
He said: “The amount of fans on the street and following the bus was a real eye-opener. It was incredible just how much it meant to so many people. It was a great way to end the season but obviously we had disappointment last season by not winning the other cup and not winning promotion, so I think we need to use the disappointment to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Although he suffered a season which was, to a large extent, spoiled by injury, Keatings managed to get his goals tally into double figures for the third season in succession and has his sights even higher, his fingers crossed that Cummings, Hibs’ leading scorer in the past two years, remains at the club.
He said: “Jason has a year left on his contract so it’s up to the club whether they hold on to him or not. Obviously, there are a lot of rumours which will happen because he has been the top scorer. He is massive for the club, a player that can make a difference so I hope we can keep him. It’s just me and Jason up front at the moment but the new manager might want to bring his own players in. I want to try and beat last season’s goals which I managed from a small amount of games in my own positiion.”
Hibs also have a Europa League campaign to look forward to, Keatings admitting that’s something he’d dreamt of as a boy but, he admited, it’s important the Capital club get their Championship season off to a flyer having lost two of their first three games in each of the past two years.
Lennon will take his side to Falkirk – where Keatings scored twice in the last match between the clubs only for Hibs to have their promotion hopes wrecked in the play-offs – leading the striker to say: “Falkirk will be close favourites in the league, to be challenging so it’s up to us to go there on the first day and set the tempo. If you get a really good start it kick-starts the season. You can go and build a good run and, if you do that, you create a gap like Rangers did and it’s hard for the teams behind to catch you.”