Neil Lennon has boldly claimed Hibs are “the second-best team in the country” – despite losing out to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final at the weekend.
The Dons currently sit in the runners-up spot in the Premiership and are widely regarded as second only to Celtic in Scottish football.
But Lennon reckons his team can lay claim to being better than the Pittodrie outfit.
Hibs battled back from the concession of a goal to Adam Rooney after just 11 seconds and a second to Ryan Christie’s audacious free-kick 24 minutes later to restore parity after an hour at Hampden.
But they were denied the chance to defend the trophy they won in historic fashion last year when Jonny Hayes’ shot deflected fortuitously off Darren McGregor with just five minutes remaining. The exciting encounter gave the Easter Road side a glimpse into the competition they will face in the top-flight next season after winning the Championship this term.
And, despite labelling his side “pathetic” and accusing them of “hiding” during a calamitous opening half an hour, and ultimately crashing to defeat, Lennon is adamant Hibs are worthy of being considered superior to their weekend opponents.
Asked about going toe-to-toe with the nation’s “second-best team”, Lennon told Hibs TV: “We’re the second-best team in the country.
“We can play, and I think we’re the second-best team in the country. We should have won the game.
“If we add a couple of players we’ll be a real force to be reckoned with next season.
“We can mix it, we can play, we showed plenty of character to come back from 2-0 down.
“We were definitely in the ascendancy, we scored the best goals, but we conceded and they let the game get away from them.”
Meanwhile, Lennon will be back at Hampden this afternoon to discover his punishment for his part in the ugly melee with Morton counterpart Jim Duffy last month.
The Hibs boss reacted angrily when Duffy stormed into his technical area after Lennon had remonstrated with Morton striker Kudus Oyenuga in the wake of his red-card challenge on Jordon Forster and a head-to-head clash with Darren McGregor.
Due to the “non-availability of Hibs’ solicitor”, the Northern Irishman had his case delayed until today after expressing frustration he could be banned from the touchline for Saturday’s semi-final against Aberdeen.
Instead, the former Celtic manager, who faces three charges of breaching disciplinary rule 203 by “adopting an aggressive attitude” to Oyenuga, Duffy and the match officials, is in danger of missing Hibs’ title party against St Mirren a week on Saturday.
Duffy was handed a three-match ban, one of which is suspended, for his part in the fracas.
Should Lennon be handed the same punishment he will be banished to the stand for tomorrow’s meeting with Raith Rovers and on Saturday against Ayr United but free to celebrate with his team on the last day of the campaign at Easter Road.