Neil Lennon says he won’t shy away from the mind games indulged in by Hibernian and Falkirk throughout last season’s tit-for-tat Championship campaign.
But the new man at the Hibs helm is aware that he will have to be pretty shrewd if he is to get the better of a streetwise Peter Houston, who will play host to the Edinburgh team on Saturday as the curtain lifts on the new league season.
Last term the Falkirk boss and his players got the better of the Easter Road side, on and off the pitch, finishing ahead of them in the league and then ousting them from the play-offs in dramatic fashion with a never-say-die performance.
Some of the comments emanating from the Leith dressing room were used to fuel those triumphs but, while he is wary of gifting Houston, who was his scout while at Celtic, easy motivation, he says that there remains a time and a place for using words to gain an advantage.
“The mind games are just part of football. I’ve done it myself and I’ll probably use it whenever I can if I feel it will be beneficial. I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever.
“Houston is a canny operator and has been around for quite a while and is more than able to get a sort of siege mentality, which worked very well in their favour last season.”
The pair had a some run-ins early in Lennon’s managerial career, most notably in 2010 when Houston was the Dundee United gaffer, but, having worked together at Celtic, when Houston took on a scouting role for the then Parkhead boss, there is a high level of respect.
“We had one major run-in really and that was me being a young d******* really,” admits Lennon. “It was the day he said I hadn’t achieved anything in management! I think he’s backtracked on that one since!
“But it was all fun and games and we know each other very well now so I don’t think there will be too much nonsense going on.
“I laugh when I look back, more or less, and sometimes I cringe. I do. You look back on situations and think ‘I don’t know that person any more’. I still have my competitive instincts and you still get your back up about things but that is done in a more controlled manner now.
“I had to learn very quickly. I was still interim manager at that time and that first year was raucous to say the least. But I wouldn’t change it for anything, it is all part of the learning curve. You need that edge. If you don’t have that then there’s no point – I wouldn’t be bothered with all this if I didn’t have that edge. It would be pointless. Totally pointless.
“The one thing I would maybe change was the day at Hearts when I had a go at Craig Thomson. Looking back at that, I do think ‘what the hell were you doing?’ But you know what I’m like – if I’m provoked there might be a retaliation at some point.
“But I’m certainly a lot more mellow and there won’t be animosity with Peter. It’s always good to test yourself against managers who are street-smart and savvy, but as anyone will tell you, you are only as good as your players.”
There have been numerous changes in personnel at both clubs over the summer, adding some fresh intrigue to a fixture that had become familiar but never less than engrossing as the clubs went toe to toe last term in the quest for promotion. It earned Houston, who Lennon revealed had contacted him to offer support during the darker days at Bolton, and his squad respect but ultimately rewarded neither club.
“Falkirk had a hell of a season last season and that was no surprise to me. I am surprised he is still at Falkirk. I mean that as no disrespect to Falkirk, he might be really happy there, but I think he can manage at a higher level than that, whether in Scotland or England.”