Hibernian players have hit back at manager Neil Lennon after he questioned their professionalism in the wake of Wednesday’s derby defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle, which ended the Leith club’s chances of finish second in the Premiership.
In an emotional post-match outburst Lennon branded them “amateur” and “unprofessional”. But it was the Easter Road manager who missed training yesterday and slept in for an afternoon press conference, leaving his assistant to handle the fall-out.
It is understood that members of the squad are angry at the way their boss eviscerated them in an astonishing post-match press conference at Tynecastle, in which he also revealed he may quit the club this summer.
Furious that the side had fallen short in their bid to finish runners up, Lennon insisted that it was not good enough and did not meet his own ambitions.
While the players share his disappointment, they believe his reaction was disproportional, especially in a season where they defied their budget, claimed a number of big scalps and could still qualify for Europe in their first season back in the top fight.
“We are a very professional group,” said midfielder Marvin Bartley. “I have been in changing rooms that are not so. So yes it is disappointing to be branded as unprofessional and amateur because we are not that, we are a good group of lads. Sometimes we’ll perform well and sometimes we won’t. We’ll win games and we’ll lose games. But I don’t think an amateur group or an unprofessional group could go and beat Celtic or go to Ibrox and beat Rangers, go up to Aberdeen and draw.”
It is not the first time that the players have been strongly criticised by Lennon during his two seasons at the helm. Previously, they have responded positively, accepting his high demands, but, this time, there is unrest in the dressing room, with many insisting privately that he has overstepped the mark. The fact he left assistant Garry Parker to take training yesterday and was not present at East Mains to address his squad, has not helped the mood.
“We can’t do anything about that, the manager is his own man,” said Bartley, when asked about his gaffer’s comments and behaviour. “If that’s the route he wants to go down and [leaving is] the decision he wants to make that’s down to him. As players we need to get on with our job because we have a game on Sunday.
“The most important thing is trying to break the [record] points total now because third place looks beyond us.”
And despite the fall-out from Wednesday, he said the players were determined to maintain their focus and prepare properly for the final game.
“We’re a professional group, we’ll get on with it,” he said. It was a loaded comment and illustrated the frustration in the squad.
After three seasons in the Championship, the way they have battled Aberdeen and Rangers for a European spot and the title of best of the rest has been lauded, while the style of play has also earned them acclaim and the biggest Easter Road crowds since the 1950s. They are also just one point away from their best ever top tier tally.
The fact that Lennon’s outburst has overshadowed that and taken some of the sheen off the season’s achievements has also irritated the club, who are angered that his comments have stoked uncertainty and unrest.
But Parker claimed Lennon would be in charge for the final game of the season and firmly believes that he and Lennon will still be managing the team next season, claiming it was simply a bad cold that kept Lennon away from the training ground yesterday.
“I was always taking training,” Parker said. “He said to me, before he left: ‘You take training tomorrow but I’ll be in later.’ Obviously I thought he’d be here by now – but he’s not well.
“He’s had flu for the past couple of weeks or so, been coughing and all that. So he’s at home. His wife woke him up – and he fell back asleep. And that’s a true story. Honestly.”