Neil Lennon delighted sparring pal Craig Levein is on the mend

Hibs manager Neil Lennon expressed his relief that 'workaholic' city rival Craig Levein is recovering well from his health scare.

Saturday, 1st September 2018, 6:30 am
Hearts manager Craig Levein, left, with Hibs counterpart Neil Lennon
Hearts manager Craig Levein, left, with Hibs counterpart Neil Lennon

The Hearts boss was rushed to hospital on Monday after suffering a heart problem, but is now back at home and hopeful of returning to work in time for his team’s trip to Motherwell in a fortnight.

“I’m delighted he’s on the road to recovery,” said Lennon. “I was gutted and a bit upset to tell you the truth. You see the headline and you just worry. Thankfully I was able to get hold of him later on that day and he was in good spirits. It was just texts we exchanged as I didn’t want to ring him. I knew he was in hospital but didn’t know what condition he was in.

“We sent all our best wishes from the staff here and he got back to me really quickly with his usual dry sense of humour. That to me was a great sign. I’ll be delighted to see him back soon but he obviously needs a bit of time and a bit of privacy as well.”

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The pressure of being a modern-day football manager is well documented and Lennon believes it will have taken even more of a toll on Levein given that he has immersed himself in every aspect of Hearts in his extra role as director of football.

“He is a workaholic and maybe the wee break will do him the world of good,” said Lennon. “It just shows you the demands of the job and what it can do to you sometimes. I think his is compounded by the fact he’s the director of football there, he has made big strides in a short space of time in turning the playing performances around.

“You can’t do it all, and maybe it’s just his body telling him to slow down a little bit and enjoy the wins.”

Lennon and Levein are long-time friends but they found themselves engaged in a series of post-Edinburgh derby verbal jousts in the second half of last season. Levein sparked the mischievous exchange by claiming “natural order” had been restored in the Capital after Hearts’ Scottish Cup win over Hibs in January. Lennon duly responded by branding Hearts “irrelevant” after his team gained revenge with a 2-0 league victory in March. Following Hearts’ 2-1 win over Hibs in the final Premiership match of the campaign in May, Levein hit back with “we’ve put them out the Scottish Cup and stopped them finishing second. That’s pretty relevant, to me.”

Lennon explained that those football-related spats are no reflection of the genuine respect the pair have for each other.

“At the end of the day, there is huge respect there,” he said. “You like the verbals sometimes and the spats, I get involved with a lot of people if they rub me up the wrong way and I’m sure I rub people up the wrong way. You don’t mean them any ill-will, you just want to beat them and that’s the nature of the job. There is certainly no animosity between us.”

Lennon, meanwhile, is hoping his team can find some rhythm now that the transfer window has closed and they can focus fully on their league campaign after a busy summer.

“You just want things to settle down and get into a routine because we’ve had a lot of different things to deal with, with Europe and negotiating deals,” he said. “Now that the window is closed, we know what we’ve got until January. A few players are still getting up to speed but there’s a vibrancy and freshness about the squad. We’ve lost John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch but you move on. We’re pleased with the start we’ve made and we know there’s more to come.”

Hibs head to West Lothian today intent on extending their unbeaten start in the league against a newly-promoted Livingston side who have taken four points from their first three games despite replacing player-manager Kenny Miller with Gary Holt after just two games.

“They’ve done great,” said Lennon. “It was always going to be a difficult season for them but where they’ve come from in the last couple of years is remarkable.

“They played all the play-offs games with a small squad, which is a huge ask, and they did that really, really well. They will take points off teams, they have got good spirit and are well drilled.”