Craig Levein has stoked the fires ahead of tonight’s Edinburgh derby by admitting that he is trying to get under Hibs’ skin.
The Hearts manager, whose side won the January head-to-head to arrest a nine-game run without a victory in the fixture, antagonised Easter Road head coach Neil Lennon when he talked about “restoring the natural order”.
Lennon, who had won two and drawn two of his previous four derbies at the helm, said he did not know what Levein meant. But, on the eve of the latest meeting, the Hearts boss, who has lost just seven of the 55 capital clashes he has contested as a player and manager, said he was happy to clarify. “For me, in this fixture, it is normal that we come out on top,” he stated.
“Listen, it is just one big game. Isn’t it? It’s fun. It hurts when you go down to Easter Road and they win 1-0 and they are doing a lap of honour and people are tweeting stuff.
“It hurts but the only real way to fix it is to do it on the park. If there are some words exchanged that maybe push some people a bit closer to the edge then that is part of it as well.”
Hibs have talked about making Levein eats his words at Easter Road this evening but the Tynecastle manager is hoping his barbs will lead to them being too fired up.
Lennon already faces a trip to Hampden to explain his explosive touchline behaviour against Kilmarnock last month when he was sent to the stand for vigorously protesting a penalty award against his side. The Hibs boss also talked about “the gloves being off” in response to Levein’s “natural order” remark but was more measured on Thursday when he called for his players to be “cold and professional”.
“My view on these games is that everybody tries their hardest,” added Levein, who made 21 appearances in Hearts’ 22-game unbeaten run in the Edinburgh fixture from 1989-94 and saw what it took lord it over their city rivals.
“You are always just sitting below the point of the volcano exploding. It’s who can control that the best. So I hope they are really uptight about it. That’s the way it goes.”
He was unable to mask a mischievous smile from spreading across his face when it was suggested that as a veteran of this fixture, even in the aftermath of the cup game, he was already consciously laying the groundworks for the next derby and trying to bait Hibs
with his “natural order”
When asked if he expected the remark to cause such a fuss and rumble on, the smile morphed into a chuckle as he offered a far from convincing: “Of course not.”
But he added that mind games were part and parcel of a derby, with both sides playing to their respective audiences.
“Look, I think it’s important for our supporters. This game stands out in the calendar. I don’t think there will be any other fixture that the supporters will look for or say ‘when are we playing Celtic away?’ or ‘when are we playing St Johnstone at home?’
“People look for this fixture and they plan things round about it because they want to be there. I like that. It’s a good feeling. The whole excitement leading up to it, the pressure on the day. It’s exciting.”