Neil Lennon says he was not speaking literally when he stated that Jim Duffy had challenged him to a “square go” as all reason was abandoned at Easter Road on Wednesday night.
In fact he said it often and said it loudly and forcibly as he launched an incredible tirade at the club’s East Mains training ground yesterday.
Time had passed since the stramash between Hibernian and Morton at the end of their midweek Championship game but it had done little to soothe the Leith club’s manager, who said he was as angry as he had ever been in all his years in the game. Those present would be hard pushed to disagree with that assessment as he went on the warpath, indignantly detailing every gripe, with Kudus Oyenuga, with the Morton player’s boss Duffy, with the reporting of his comments, which he says were taken too literally, and with the way, he says, he is always cast in the role of villain.
The gathering had been intended to preview this afternoon’s match away to Dunfermline but advance warning was given that the manager had something he wanted to get off his chest.
Even if it hadn’t been flagged up, it became clear as the storm clouds followed him into the room. He had been enraged on Wednesday night but that soon seemed like a quiet afternoon tea with grandma as he started to vent, wagging his finger and banging the table for emphasis as he shouted down those present.
If he was furious with Oyenuga’s lunge on Jordon Forster that had served as the touchpaper and enraged by the Morton player feigning injury to get Darren McGregor sent of for an alleged headbutt, he was just as angry with Duffy and the media, who he believes had been attempting to paint him as the bad boy.
“I’m angry with the way it’s been handled, I’m angry with certain quarters of the media. I’m angry with what’s been said afterwards, as if it was light and it’s played down and it’s handbags and it’s emotion and passion and all that crap. Sorry, I’m not having it,” he raged.
“I don’t agree with the Morton manager at all on the situation. He played it down because he knows he’s in the wrong. I’m not letting him get away with that. I did have time for him, but not any more.
“Where do you want me to start? I’ll start with his comments after the game. I’ve got it here in front of me.” Scrolling through them, Lennon let rip.
Refuting Duffy’s description of the mass brawl as a fracas, he said: “It was more than a fracas, far more than a fracas.” He then addressed Duffy’s assumption that “Neil wasn’t happy with Kudus’ challenge”. “Understatement of the year,” he scoffed before ridiculing his Morton counterpart’s claim that the referee was going to send off Oyenuga anyway, rendering his outburst unnecessary.
“Is he a mind reader? I wasn’t aware of that and I was standing closest to it,” he went on. “By the way, I will refer to him as the Morton manager because in his statement [on Thursday] he refers to me as the Hibs manager. He doesn’t even have the good grace, courtesy and manners to call me by my name.”
Next he undermined Duffy’s assessment of the stramash. The Morton manager said: “Obviously there were a few people involved.” Lennon responded: “A few people involved? It must have been at least 20, the majority from his staff and his technical area.” Duffy also said: “Maybe it was handbags with a few things inside the handbags?” Lennon said: “It was far from handbags. Somebody tried to compare it to the spat I had with Ally McCoist. It was far worse than that! Far worse than that.”
Lennon dismissed the notion that he would agree with Duffy’s summation that it was all just a bit of emotion. “No Neil won’t say the same,” he jibed. “I totally disagree. It was disgraceful behaviour.”
He said there was no reason for the Morton manager and his staff to charge into his technical area and, while he was annoyed with the way his quote about being asked for a square go had been taken literally, and dismissed by Duffy in a statement, he said the impression was the same.
“I’m not saying he did ask me for a square go, I’m saying his behaviour and body language was confrontational and he certainly wasn’t coming over for a chat and he certainly wasn’t coming over to defend his player.
“We will see what the beaks make of it,” he said, insisting he wasn’t the instigator despite the picture he feels is being painted. “I saw the headlines about me. I see the punters in the street talking about me and saying ‘Lennon is at it again. He brings it on himself’, the usual shite. Jim has made a joke of it saying ‘maybe I should ask Lenny what it is like to go to the SFA’. Very funny! I don’t find it funny!”
The incandescent Hibs boss was in no mood for stopping. Still ten points clear of Morton after Wednesday night’s outcome, the club have appealed McGregor’s red card and will have him available at East End Park today. They won’t have Jordon Forster, though, stoking Lennon’s grievance.
“Nobody asked me about Jordon,” he said. “He was lying on the ground and their staff came over and confronted me. Confronting me. I remonstrated once with the player and the referee.
“He has been an absolute disgrace, the player, and that has got lost in this ‘Neil Lennon is at it again’! The real important issue is a player, who is badly injured by the way, and a player feigning injury to get my captain sent off. No, let’s make the headline about me. And now we have Chic Charnley in a paper going ‘my pal would sort Lenny out’. Brilliant. That’s what is wrong with [football in] this country.”
It turns out Forster could be sidelined for three to four weeks with a shoulder injury but his gaffer says it could have been a lot worse, “Thankfully, there’s no leg injury, so he’s lucky. If his leg had been planted, he would have been looking at a lot more serious injury.
“He was lying on the ground while all them lot were running over, trampling past him, to get at me; not caring a jot about him. But I have to look after the welfare of my players, that’s my job, and it’s his career. It could have been a career-ending challenge.”
Saying Oyenuga had behaved appallingly, at the tackle and when slumping to the ground to get McGregor sent off, Lennon wants the English striker to face more scrutiny.
“No one has asked him the question what happened between him and Darren McGregor or what happened with the tackle. I don’t see any quotes from the player apologising. I don’t see anyone from Morton apologising for the tackle… Jim said it was reckless but I didn’t see Jim say anything about the player going down under a head butt when it was far from a head butt. If that was a Celtic or Rangers player, like big Kyle Lafferty years ago, then you would have been full of it.”
Lennon even went as far as insisting that if one of his players acted in such a way “he wouldn’t play for me again. I would come out and condemn that behaviour, not only for the tackle, but the disgraceful behaviour afterwards. He’s a coward.”
It was a lot to get off his chest and none of it is likely to pour water on a fire that is now likely to continue burning all the way to next Saturday, when the league leaders travel to Cappielow. Given the fury and the fallout, it will probably blaze even longer than that.