Hibs’ Neil Lennon aiming high but curbing his excitement

Hibs manager Neil Lennon. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Hibs manager Neil Lennon. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
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Neil Lennon says it did not take long for it to sink in that he was on his way back to the Scottish top flight.

It happened minutes after Hibs gained promotion, when he saw chief executive Leeann Dempster and head of football operations George Craig and noticed “that the colour was coming back into their faces”. Relief quickly morphed into excitement.

That has grown throughout the summer and the man who last experienced Premiership life as manager at Celtic now returns with a side who have spent three seasons in exile. While they have been tipped to perform well, he knows that the tests he will face as Hibs boss will differ from those he faced at Parkhead.

“I probably won’t win every game, every week or be expected to win every game, every week,” he said. “But there is still a good expectation and rightly so. We will get good crowds and the atmosphere at Easter Road will be tremendous. Hopefully we can all thrive off that. It could go flat on Saturday and we could lose the game and I am very wary of that so I’m not getting too excited. But I am looking forward to it. I have enjoyed what I have seen so far from the players over pre-season and we are injury free, which is great. We could be a little outside bet to give a few bloody noses along the way.”

But he does not like that others are offering similar predictions. Ready to get started against Partick Thistle, in Leith, this afternoon, he knows that they face stiff competition as every club chases their own targets.

“Every manager is under pressure. It’s all relative,” he added. For “Brendan [Rodgers], Champions League qualification is huge and he knows that. It was a great result in Rosenborg. Now can they get to the group stage? For Pedro [Caixinha], can he improve? For Derek [McInnes], can he maintain the great season he had last year? For myself, it’s can we make top six? Can Alan Archibald do what he did last year? Can Tommy [Wright] get St Johnstone into Europe again?

“These guys have set a high bar for themselves. But if they don’t do what they have done in previous years, it doesn’t mean they are bad managers. Brendan finished second and almost won the Premier League at Liverpool – then they sold Luis Suarez. Brendan didn’t become a lesser manager – he just lost a world-class player. Paul Hartley lost Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart from the previous season – who scored 25-30 goals. They are difficult to replace. But Paul hasn’t become a worse manager.”

But if there is external pressure, it is nothing compared to the onus Lennon will place on himself and his players as they try to force their way into the top end of the table.

“I don’t like making predictions,”he said. “Everyone says ‘oh, he said he was the second best team last year’ but at the time, after the semi-final, I felt we were as good as Aberdeen. We were in great form, playing very well. But that was then and this is now. I think there is a three-tier division. You have Celtic, then it’s Aberdeen and Rangers and then the rest. I want us to break into that second bracket and compete. I have players with vast experience of the Scottish/British/European game and that pleases me. I think we have recruited well but the proof will be in the pudding. I’m quietly confident, though.”

Older and wiser since his first Premiership stint as a fledgling boss, he says every manager learns from his mistakes. “But there is no such thing as a perfect manager,” he said. “The modern-day supporter is looking for the perfect team, the perfect player, perfect manager but there is no such thing. You try to get as many aspects of your job right as you can, control the controllables and not worry about the uncontrollables.”