Neil Lennon has admitted Steven Gerrard was one of his heroes as a player – but the Hibs boss is confident he can get the better of his Rangers counterpart tonight.
Lennon revealed his admiration for the “great fist” the Liverpool legend is making of management, having taken the Ibrox club to the top of the Premiership table.
However, having beaten Celtic last weekend, Lennon is convinced that no matter how difficult tonight’s match might be, Hibs can complete an Old Firm double in the space of only four days and regain their place in the top six.
Lennon believes Rangers are “a different animal” since Gerrard took charge, a move he admitted had surprised him, describing the Glasgow side as having an entirely different mentality, being more pragmatic and boasting a steelier edge – all of which he feels is down to the ex-Anfield skipper.
He said: “I was surprised he took the job because it was a very difficult first job. He’s a big name himself and it was a gamble but now he’s in there, it looks like he’s been there for a long, long time.”
Lennon himself made a huge first step into management at Celtic but, as he pointed out, that unlike Gerrard he had the benefit of knowing the players and the culture of the club.
He said: “He wasn’t ingrained in the club but I think he’s handled it brilliantly. He’s obviously got a good level of self belief and he’s making a great fist of it so far.”
Gerrard’s influence has, according to Lennon rubbed off on his Rangers players just as it did when he often appeared to steer Liverpool to victory almost single-handedly, not least their remarkable Champions League triumph against AC Milan in 2005 when they came back from 3-0 down at half-time to win on penalties.
He said: “There is obviously a great respect there from the players. As a player, well, first and foremost, he’s one of my heroes. As a manager now, he’s getting the best out of that group of players which augurs well.
“I have never seen anyone carry a club like Liverpool the way he did. I mean, a big player in the big games, his record at Liverpool was outstanding, his will to win was outstanding. He would take a team by the scruff of the neck and drag them over the line. In the big games – the big games – he was always there.
“People always talk about Istanbul for a reason. He was incredible that night, it was an incredible individual performance in the second half. I also remember the FA Cup final against West Ham, he dragged Liverpool over the line there.
“He did it so many times on so many big occasions and it just never seemed to faze him, any of it.”
As much as he believes Gerrard has “lifted the bar” at Ibrox, Lennon insisted a third successive win wasn’t beyond his Hibs side, their confidence rising again following back-to-back victories over Hamilton and Celtic.
He said: “You’ve got to go in thinking you can win the game, otherwise what’s the point? We’ve taken one huge step forward and now we need to take another. Of course it’s not beyond us. We know we’re capable of beating anyone in this league. We’re not shouting from the rooftops about anything. We have to be consistent now, the players have set their marker and we know they are capable to doing that.”
Vykintas Slivka will have a fitness test ahead of the match, the ankle injury he suffered against Celtic proving not to be as serious as first thought, while Mark Milligan and Martin Boyle will both come back into contention.