Neil Lennon: Winning matters more than flair
Determined to make it to the Championship finishing line first and set on progressing to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup when Hibernian welcome Hearts to Easter Road next week, he says it would be ideal if his team could do both while playing entertaining football but says he will settle for the right results, regardless how his men get them.
The Championship leaders went toe to toe with Hearts at the weekend in what was a grizzly capital derby. But while it may not have been pretty to watch, Lennon enjoyed it and is happy to go for it again in the replay.
“Listen, I’m not here for the neutrals. I really don’t care what the neutrals thought of the game,” he said. “My remit was to get through and make sure we didn’t get beat so the players handled the occasion very, very well. It might not have been a classic in people’s eyes, but I don’t care. I really don’t care.
“People are saying that Easter Road will suit Hearts. It will certainly suit Hibs. It was impossible to play football. I watched Rangers two or three weeks earlier try to play that way and they got beat 4-1. Rangers are a stronger club than us with better individuals, and Hearts did a number on them. I certainly didn’t want that happening to me or my team, especially in my first derby.
“We all want to play a certain way and we all want to win in style and have a football philosophy. My philosophy after being in management for what, six, seven years now, is to win. Whether you win as well as you can or win by as little as you can, however it is, it certainly makes your weekend a lot better when you win, although you can always analyse your performance. We’ve heard that cliche where ‘we’ve played better and lost’. Well, that doesn’t make your Saturday night any better, trust me.”
The playing surface at Tynecastle was blamed for the paucity of flair in the cup tie and Lennon says that having spent this season in the second tier, where the condition of several pitches limits the ability to ping the ball about, he has learned that sometimes his team has to adapt to the environment.
That approach has served Hibs well in the league, thus far. They head to Kirkcaldy to take on Raith Rovers tomorrow, aware that they could go nine points clear of the chasing pack, with just a dozen games remaining.
“I don’t think you can play football all the time. Some teams try to and the ball is bobbling about and teams press you and it makes it difficult to play through them on poor pitches. It’s that time of year when they are starting to dry out and it is getting a bit crumbly and flakey. I have seen it many times before and I looked at the pitch on Sunday and said: ‘I don’t think I have great ball-playing centre halves today anyway, so we are going to be a little bit more direct and play in the final third and put them under pressure.’”
The tactics earned Hibs a replay but before then, they have to turn sights back to league duty. Tomorrow’s match will come too soon for both Jordon Forster and Paul Hanlon, who will sit out at least one more game, leaving Lennon stretched in central defence, but he says that everyone else is fighting for derby places. “If anyone has any ideas about taking their foot off the gas and saving themselves for the replay then I think that idea is misguided. I want to get promotion and the club wants to get promotion and, psychologically, if we win then that puts us in a strong position.”
But after his men dropped points against Ayr United in the build-up to the cup derby, he is wary of a Raith side winless since October but under the guidance of new boss, John Hughes, who could provide a bounce.
“All I am thinking is game by game and if we win on Saturday then we will be nine points ahead with 12 games to go. That would be a strong position to be in. If we lose then we will still be six points clear and that would be a decent lead but we will be disappointed. If we draw seven points is still good but I want it to be nine and then we can think about other games after that.”