Neil Lennon has no regrets after he very publicly hauled his Hibs players over the coals in the wake of Saturday’s draw with Raith Rovers.
He claims that the fact he was so incensed by the performance proves that he still has fire in his belly and he wants to see that burning in his players as well, but not just in tonight’s Scottish Cup fifth-round replay against Hearts. The result against Raith denied Hibs the chance to open up a nine-point gap at the top of the Championship which, with just a dozen games remaining, would have been a massive advantage.
It also prompted the Easter Road head coach to question the professionalism of his players.
But, while he acknowledged that his own quest for perfection meant that the standards he has set his squad are lofty, he maintained that any player who shares his priorities of a league and cup double this season must deliver a much higher level of consistency.
“Am I a perfectionist? Yes, I think a lot of managers are,” Lennon said. “A wise old bird once told me ‘don’t look for the perfect when the best will do’, but I didn’t get the best on Saturday. You’ll never get perfection, whether it’s me, Brendan [Rodgers], Pep [Guardiola], but you need to strive for it. What actually pleased me was that I’ve still got the rage! I thought maybe I’d mellowed, but I’ve still got it in there.
“I caught myself the other day – and that’s no bad thing, that it still means so much. It is rare [to have such an outburst], but there is a time and a place for moments like that. I did it at Celtic and I’m sure I’ll do it again at other clubs.
“There are standards and they fell way below the standard that we expect of them. I want them to be consistent. Sometimes maybe I ask too much of them, I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they perform a lot better than they did in the first 45 minutes. Tonight [against Hearts] is a different animal.
“Am I looking for a reaction? Well any manager would be after a disappointing performance and I think these guys have got good mental strength when they really need it.”
The swift return to action, in such a monumental game for the fans and one that will ultimately help determine the success of this season, is a blessing, according to Lennon, who can’t wait for the replay at Easter Road.
“Any game would have been ideal but this game is a little bit more special because of the rivalry between the two teams. I don’t look too much into that but what I want to do is prevail in a cup tie and get to the quarter-finals because we are the holders.”
Having bettered Hearts en route to winning the trophy last term, Hibs do not want to grant Hearts revenge this year. Lennon, just doesn’t want to lose.
“I don’t want to give it up to anybody. I don’t want to get beat and we are not in that mode of thinking. We are very positive. Our priority is the league. Our priority is the Scottish. We have two priorities now. I know I have been saying all along that the league is the priority but I’ve been lying.”
Even if Lennon is accurate when he suggests his side have grown slightly complacent in the league, where they have lost just two in 24, and are therefore selective in the games they galvanise themselves for, the high stakes mean he has no fears about his men’s attitude tonight.
“I think that’s a natural assumption to make when you look at the results but the other side of this is that we’re seven points clear [in the league]. Seven points clear is respectable but it probably should have been even better. So what I’m looking for going forward is more intensity, concentration and application so that we start games as well as we finish them. In professional football if you’re going for a title, or going for a double – and we are in two competitions and we want to win both – then you can’t pick and choose your games.
“There is nothing between the [capital] teams. And If Hearts want to come and play football then that will suit us down to the ground because not many teams come here and play football.
“It will be a challenge that we will look forward to. It will be feisty for sure and it will be raw. I am sure there will be good football played at times.”