Shouldering the blame for Saturday’s defeat to St Johnstone, Hibernian manager Neil Lennon says there was “a lack of focus” ahead of that encounter.
But with a massive test against Aberdeen, as both teams attempt to move up the Premiership standings ahead of the international break, he says there can be no excuses tonight.
“I’m looking for a big improvement. I take responsibility for the defeat last week. I felt for the players last week with all the hoo-ha going on in the background, they’re not used to that. You could tell there was a lack of focus, not just from the players but also the manager. I don’t want to be bringing that sort of stuff to a club like Hibs so I’ll take responsibility for what happened last weekend and I’m looking for a reaction now at Pittodrie.”
In the wake of the controversial capital derby, the Hibernian boss had railed against what he described as anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic bigotry after he was targeted in some unsavoury graffiti and struck by a coin.
His striker Florian Kamberi was also red-carded on a night where a Hibs fan struck out at Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal and although assistant manager Garry Parker had denied the events had played any part in Hibs’ impotent showing on Saturday, Lennon has admitted they had.
But, stating he would prefer to shift the spotlight back on to footballing matters, he said he is expecting a brighter display from his men against Derek McInnes’ team this evening.
“Time is a great healer. Players get on with it and they have trained well for what should be a good game. I am hoping we perform with a bit of effervescence and a decent tempo.”
The opportunity to pair up Kamberi and strike partner Jamie Maclaren for the first time since their Europa League qualifier in Molde could help with that while the two meetings with Aberdeen this term, in the league and cup, offer Lennon hope, despite losing one on penalties and drawing the other.
“We played well in both the games and were unfortunate not to win both. But Aberdeen at Pittodrie are a different animal. They have gone three in a row now, if you include the semi-final, so they have the bit between their teeth at the minute.”
But even if football is at the front of his thinking this week, he remains baffled by the response of some who have criticised his actions during the derby after he celebrated Hearts’ having a “goal” chalked off late in the capital head-to-head by turning to Hearts fans and smiling. Described by some as inflammatory, others have gone even further and claimed he therefore brought the coin attack on himself.
“Did you see Mourinho?” he asked of the Manchester United manager cupping his ear after his men had staged a late comeback to beat Juventus in the Champions League. “Is there any difference? And the way that’s portrayed in the mainstream media is fun. I understand why he did it but it’s double standards. It smacks of hypocrisy. Do I get treated differently or portrayed differently? Yeah, obviously. It’s there in two incidents. One is seen as goading, inciting a riot, and the other’s fun, but they’re exactly the same thing.”
Baffled by the discrepancy, although he doesn’t agree, he says he does accept people’s right to a different point of view. But he is annoyed that the game’s governing bodies have refused to speak out.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster was quizzed on the matter earlier in the week and, while saying clubs should install more CCTV to weed out the coin-throwing yobs, he would not be drawn on Lennon’s claims of racism.
“I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to talk about it when he’s asked the question,” responded Lennon. “A statement came out from the FAI and Show Racism The Red Card yesterday so I was pleased to see that. It seems some associations are quite keen to do something about it and others aren’t.”