Hibernian defender Steven Whittaker has challenged the notion that his manager Neil Lennon set out to stir things up at Ibrox on Saturday.
Lennon has become the focus following his team’s 3-2 victory at the ground after he made an arm gesture to home supporters in the main stand after Hibs equalised and was later criticised for his conduct by Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha.
Yet, Whittaker has revealed that Lennon preached calm to his team before an intemperate encounter that brought a controversial red card for Ryan Jack and nine bookings.
“No, he wanted us to keep our cool,” said the 33-year-old Easter Road summer signing when asked if his manager had given a blood-and-thunder pre-match address. “We have been playing great through pre-season, so it was a just a matter of continuing that.
“We knew it would be heated at times, so keep our cool, keep steady and just do what we have been doing. That was the message before.”
Whittaker maintained that the characteristic common to Lennon as player and manager is not aggression but “determination”.
“He is a winner and he is bedding that into the squad as much as possible. Us guys who have had the experience of being at the Old Firm and having that mentality, we’re hopefully going to try to adopt that at Hibs as well. We’ve got the talent to do it. Time will tell if we can maintain it.”
After two impressive wins to begin their first season in the top flight for four years, Whittaker is not ruling out the Leith club jousting with Aberdeen and Rangers for the best-of-the-rest tag behind inevitable title winners Celtic.
“We believe we have a great squad with good options,” he said. “It’s one or two games into the season and we have started well. It’s on to the next one and keep going with it. If we can build that momentum and belief, get on that run, who knows what we can achieve?”
Meanwhile, Rangers fan group Club 1872 has accused Lennon of trying to incite trouble. A statement from the group read: “Club 1872 would like to commend the restraint of the Rangers support following a clear attempt by Hibernian manager, Neil Lennon, to incite trouble at yesterday’s game at Ibrox. He made various inflammatory gestures to the supporters sitting directly behind the Hibernian dugout [which] were not becoming of any football manager.”