Neil Lennon has accused Hearts manager Craig Levein of “pandering to the masses” and warned him his post-derby comments will come back to haunt him.
Stating that “the gloves are off”, the Easter Road manager was not prepared to laugh off a comment made by his opposite number in the wake of Hearts’ Scottish Cup victory at Tynecastle on Sunday.
After his side’s first win in 10 games against their city rivals, Levein claimed he was out to “restore the natural order of things”.
Lennon however, felt the comment lacked humility and professional respect from a manager whose side are five points behind his in the Premiership standings and said it was more in keeping with the kind of trolling carried out by keyboard warriors.
Lennon said: “To say I was irked would be an understatement.” His mood did not improve when informed that it Levein played down the remark, claiming: “I actually get on great with Lenny, it’s just a laugh, eh? Come on. That’s just the way it is. It’s done.”
“A laugh? I didn’t find it funny,” retorted the Northern Irishman, who revealed that the flames had been fanned by Levein’s failure to wait for the traditional post-match drink with his visiting counterpart.
“In my time in Scottish football, I’ve seen a lot of people with a misguided sense of superiority in the game – without actually earning it or achieving anything.
“I think he was pandering to the masses with the comment and I think it’s derogatory to my club, my players, our supporters and me.
“It was in very, very poor taste. ‘It’s their first win in four or five years against us. They should have been grateful and shown a bit of humility. I don’t remember rubbing anyone’s face in it after we won Edinburgh derbies. Comments like that come back to haunt you, eventually.”
Lennon dismissed the idea that Levein had just been shooting from the hip in the adrenaline-fuelled aftermath of a match.
“Sometimes in the heat of the moment after the game, you understand that. But obviously he’s been sitting on that one. Comments like that come back to haunt you. Whether it will be the next one, the one after that or the one after that, I’m sure our club will be waiting for him.”
The Tynecastle club enjoyed major bragging rights after battering their capital foes 5-1 in the 2012 Scottish Cup final but in the years since, Hibs have dismissed them from the nation’s most prestigious knockout tournament on three occasions and, in recent years, have had the better of the contests.
Lennon accepted that may have left Levein under pressure to deliver results and comments that would endear him to his own support but said he expected better from a fellow professional.
“We’re all under pressure. We all feel it. We all have our own targets, sentiments and directives to achieve. But I just find it in really poor taste. And it’s pandering. He might have picked it up on a forum and used it. I’m very disappointed. Very disappointed. Because I don’t remember saying anything like that after we’d beaten them twice at Easter Road. Comfortably!”
While Levein has tried to quell any animosity by laughing off the spat, Lennon appears in no mood to forgive and forget. He said things may have been better if he had been given the chance to clear the air straight away but said the situation was exacerbated by a further snub.
“You know why he hasn’t spoken to me yet? He didn’t wait. He did his media duties, I was then going to go in for a drink and was told he’d gone to the boardroom.
“He didn’t even wait for me to have a drink. Which is his prerogative. But, again, it’s a lack of respect. I don’t know if the other staff were there. I didn’t go in, once I knew he wasn’t there.
“It’s both managers who need to speak. It’s an unwritten rule, if you will. Win or lose. So that was very disappointing as well. That certainly never happened to me in Old Firm games.
“I’m disappointed. So the gloves are off.”