Barcelona, Juventus – whoever – it didn’t matter to Neil Lennon. The expectation was always that his Celtic side would win.
Lennon, pictured below, may have swapped to a different green and white having surprised many by succeeding Alan Stubbs as head coach of Hibernian, his goal being to earn the Edinburgh club promotion from the Championship at the third time of asking rather than toppling some of the biggest names in Europe.
But Dylan McGeouch who, as a youngster at Celtic Park saw Lennon, a Uefa Cup finalist in his playing days, steer the club into the last 16 of the Champions League, insisted that winning mentality will never wane, an attitude which was reflected in the disappointment felt by all at Hibs’ heartbreaking exit from this season’s Europa League.
McGeouch and his Hibs team-mates earned huge plaudits for the way they had defied the odds to overcome losing at home to take their second qualifying round tie against Brondby to extra time only to lose in the cruellest of fashions – on penalties. But that, insisted the midfielder, was of secondary importance.
He said: “The fact we are disappointed with a 1-0 away win at Brondby because we haven’t managed to get through says it all about the standards the gaffer sets. I am used to that after being at Celtic with him.
“I remember going away to massive Champions League matches and his expectations never wavered. Even against a Barcelona or Juventus, he was always looking for the same standard of performance and telling the boys to target a win.
“That is what he has brought to Hibs already and we will need to rise to those standards over the course of the season. There is no point playing this well in the Europa League and then slipping up in the league – that is not something that will be acceptable to the gaffer.”
Amid the disappointment, though, McGeouch reasoned that Lennon’s players could take a great deal from their efforts over 210 minutes against the side from Copenhagen, Lennon having argued that Hibs had been given the toughest draw of any of the Scottish sides involved in the competition, pitched against a club with a notable European record. “I don’t think anyone gave us a chance of going to Denmark and winning,” he said, “so we can be really proud of that. We are still in pre-season, getting up to pace, so to perform so well against a really good European side is huge for us.
“We’ve got to keep our heads up and we’ll hopefully go into the start of the season absolutely flying. The main objective is to go up. With that in mind, we’ll take so much – confidence, fitness and a win over 90 minutes – going into that league campaign.”
No-one felt more down as Hibs’ flight headed for home in the early hours of yesterday morning than McGeouch’s fellow midfielder John McGinn, who stepped forward to take the first penalty in that shoot-out only to see goalkeeper Frederik Ronnow guess right to pull off a vital stop.
Although Paul Hanlon, Grant Holt and Martin Boyle all netted, the Danes were clinical, putting all five of their efforts past debutant Hibs goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw, leaving McGinn distraught and admitting it was “by far the worst moment in my career.” But McGeouch insisted the 21-year-old won’t be short of friends as his team-mates rally round in support.
He said: “Football is a really cruel game sometimes. John has been outstanding from the minute he walked into this club and one missed penalty is not going to change that one bit.
“You could hear the fans singing his name, they know what he has done for this club. We are a close-knit bunch and we’ll make sure he is not sulking on it, which I would never expect him to.”