Aidan Smith: Why one man’s ‘Irrelevance’ is another’s ‘Natural order’

Hibs fans goad Craig Levein with a banner hung from the Famous Five Stand.  Photograph: Alan Harvey/SNS
Hibs fans goad Craig Levein with a banner hung from the Famous Five Stand. Photograph: Alan Harvey/SNS
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They will be readying themselves, the staff of Acme Banners or Total Banner Solutions or Banners for Bammers or wherever it was those Hibs fans found that “Natural order?” flag.

An urgent request will be coming for a nice big slogan in riposte to what was draped from one end of Easter Road’s Famous Five Stand to the other.

Maybe the firms who rustle up these banners were closed yesterday, the morning after the game, so Davie the Jambo from Robertson Avenue in the heart of Gorgie will have left the request on an answer-machine…

“Aye, it’s got to be 30 foot long… tell you whit, make that 50. Tell you whit, I’ll measure the length of our new stand and come back to you. But here’s what we want it to say: “Irrelevance?”

One man’s “Irrelevance” is another man’s “Natural order”.

Craig Levein made the latter remark about the Edinburgh power struggle after Hearts had won January’s Scottish Cup tie and Neil Lennon promptly responded with a one-word dismissal of Hearts’ threat to his Hibs team.

But will “Irrelevance?” be hoisted some time in the post-split or will the maroon contingent have to wait until next season to have some fun with it? They’d like another go at Hibs in this campaign but the team have a fight on their hands to remain in the top six. Either way, you imagine that Levein might ca’ canny next time.

We journos crave words from football men which we then like to inflate with a bicycle pump or flash-fry. Some managers provide these words ready-cooked. Levein said what he said seven weeks ago because a) he was relieved to have won the game; b) he didn’t like Hibs’ recent success in the derby one little bit; c) he was on a charm offensive with the Hearts supporters and thought a good way to go about that would be to speak like one; d) he has always been partial to a bit of wind-up. “It’s fun isn’t it?” he remarked.

In the days before Friday he mentioned “Natural order” again, justifying it on the grounds he had enjoyed the upper hand in the fixture both as a player and manager the first time. It’s a pompous phrase with sinister overtones which stuck in a few craws. Lennon said it hadn’t been a motivational factor for his side but John McGinn begged to differ. The players had noted it and were determined to make Levein eat his words.

Maybe, if Levein wants to continue down this provocative route, he should do his briefings in an Italian accent. Giorgio Chiellini impressed everyone after Juventus’ Champions League defeat of Tottenham. Who knew this sweat-soaked, knife-nosed warrior could be so charming? Chiellini spoke movingly of his late friend Davide Astori and wanting to carry on talking after the tears fell. But then he revealed how Juve had won the game, how they almost knew Spurs would falter. He didn’t actually use the word “Spursy” but in these lyrical tones of his this was what he meant.

Up here we say “Hibsing it” but not so much anymore. Levein thought Hibs might let their emotions get the better of them in Friday’s game and you have to wonder at the wisdom of this remark as well. If their own manager wasn’t about to caution the Hibees about how staying mature and disciplined in the midst of the biff-bang would be vital, then here was the guy in the other dugout offering them valuable advice for free.

The “Natural order?” banner wasn’t produced until the 89th minute. The home support must have been tempted to unfurl it after the second goal but Hibs have been two up near the end of derbies in the past and still not won. Holding it back was out of respect for the essential craziness of the fixture and also, though Hibbies wouldn’t admit this, the doggedness of Hearts’ performance, an improvement on the team’s last visit to Leith.

Levein had been denied the services of Demetri Mitchell and David Milinkovic who might have encouraged the manager to be more adventurous. He marshalled his depleted resources reasonably well but the same lack of boldness with which Hearts attempted to hang on for a replay in the cup at Motherwell – ultimately in vain – was again evident.

Fortune favours the brave. Hibs fans hold their breath whenever Efe Ambrose takes the ball for an amble along a quiet, sun-dappled country lane of his own imagining. Sometimes he trips over a stile and the gate he has left open can be exploited; but other times, as happened on Friday, opponents are unnerved by his meanderings, not knowing whether to tackle him or phone social services, only to end up doing neither, and the Nigerian becomes a highly effective, highly zany, weapon.

It was also bold of Lennon, pictured, to keep Scott Allan on the park when very little had been coming off for the playmaker. Some Hibs fans next to me were hollering for Allan, who seemed to be tiring, to be replaced by Marvin Bartley, but then Paul Hanlon popped the ball up to him and in one artful movement he chested it on to his weaker left foot for a half-volley which drifted into the net.

In training sessions around the country, a paid professional will do this every single day. McGinn hit the ball like this, and just as sweetly, but after the referee had blown for an infringement. Few attempt such a shot during games and even fewer pull it off. “Scotty’s a footballer, he’s brave, he’ll want to try things,” explained Lennon.

We must hope that in lots of kids’ games the following morning, the wannabe stars of tomorrow were trying to replicate his goal, no matter that a grumpy Levein called it “scrappy”.

Allan achieved the breakthrough, McGinn was the broadcasters’ man of the match and Dylan McGeouch was the sponsors’ man of the match. That can be quite a lot of midfield flair for teams to combat, never mind a side playing 16 and 17-year-olds against them. Harry Cochrane had to retire early but has already demonstrated his promise. Anthony McDonald who replaced him was one of Hearts’ better performers on Friday and he was later joined by Euan Henderson. The future, at least, should not be irrelevant for Hearts.