Neil Lennon remembers a time when he thought the top teams had things easy. But he now knows that superiority brings its own issues. As a player he had to find a way to deal with those obstacles and he says his Hibernian squad will have to do that as well.
“I would go to Old Trafford in my playing days [with Leicester City], and you are up against Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes. First of all you think: ‘It must be easy playing in this team, with Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke up front, Jaap Stam at the back’, but you raise your game because you want to play well against the best. Subconsciously, you want to prove that you can play in that company.
“And every player in that Leicester team would have done the same. Every player at Everton would have done the same. So these guys had to play every week against teams who were raising the bar.
“Then I went to Celtic and got the flipside of that. Everyone came to Celtic Park to raise their game – and then they drop again. We did that at Leicester. We would get a result at Old Trafford and then go and lose to Fulham away because we couldn’t maintain it. When you are at a big club, you have to maintain it. Yes, you’re playing with better players. But you have to adapt your mentality. At a big club, you have to stay at the top. And we are now the big fish in this pond. So we have to make sure that we’re ready.”
Hibs failed to cope when Queen of the South upped their standards to secure a 3-1 victory in the League Cup this week and, while Lennon said he could not be too disappointed with the overall performance, he was annoyed that their focus intermittently fell short of the optimum
“You have to deal with the expectation. They are good playing against Premier teams. They get themselves up for that. I’m not saying they weren’t up for the Queen of the South game, because there was no real complacency but there were lapses in concentration that maybe they wouldn’t make in other games.
“This is a big club and they have to develop that big club mentality. Look, I’ve seen players go to the Old Firm and die. It takes a certain mentality to go and play for big clubs. And I respect all players who do it because they have to do it week in, week out – they find ways to win. That’s what we have to do here. I do think we’ve got enough players capable of that. What I want is for them to drag the others with them. I want them to say: ‘Come on, let’s have a bit of this. If Dunfermline on Saturday are going to have a real go at us, let’s accept it and have a go back – take the game to them’.”
A win against Dunfermline would allow Hibs to put the cup shock behind them and build on the start they made to their Championship campaign at Falkirk last weekend.
There is a hope that they will have new faces available to them by then, with Lennon still targeting new competition in midfield and up front.
But Lennon is resigned to not having goalkeeper Ofir Marciano at his disposal just yet due to the ongoing battle with bureaucracy.
“We won’t have him for the weekend, it will probably be the following weekend now,” he said. “We’re delighted to have signed him but it has been a source of frustration, obviously.”
Stating that the Israeli player has been held up by his non-EU status and has had to sit an English test, Lennon said that he hoped the end of the saga is in sight. “George Craig [the club’s head of football operations] is going to go to Belgium next week to try to get it over the line. We’re nearly there.”