Neil Lennon’s men have had to find their feet since they returned to the Premiership but if they are to perform to their full capabilities he says they also need to find their voice.
The players were on the wrong end of a rollicking from their manager after they caved against Motherwell last weekend. The manner in which his side allowed a two-goal advantage to be eroded infuriated the Easter Road boss, who claimed they “sagged” as their guests mustered their revival and he wants more individuals to step up and take command if they come under that kind of pressure again.
But, while he can set standards and make demands from the sidelines, he says the players must influence events during a game. He believes he has men able to do that, he just needs them to step up.
“I’ve got plenty characters in there,” he said “You can hear them in there and you can hear them on the training ground. It’s just when the going gets a bit rough, I want people to stand up.
“In the [Scottish Cup] semi-final last year, we were 2-0 down and playing awful. The heads were down for some reason. Then we brought on [Grant] Holt, who is a character. He lifted the team, took them by the scruff of the neck, but he’s 36 so maybe it is a generational thing. But you still need character and personality – no matter what the tactics or formation are, it’s about managing the game.
“Some of the players say ‘sometimes I don’t want to say anything, gaffer’ but I encourage it. We cajole them every day. I tell them if you’re not happy with someone, have a go at them. Otherwise, it’ll keep happening again and again. If you shout at your team-mate, it might shock them. They’ll think ‘where did that come from? Maybe he’s right’. Or they’ll go the other way and sulk, which is what you don’t want. But if they do that, they won’t play. It’s not to humiliate or embarrass anyone, it’s to get more out of players.”
Never afraid to share his feelings with team-mates during his playing days, the Hibs boss says that was the norm back then. He jokes that fielding clones of himself may solve the issue but concedes that would probably be a tough team to manage.
“You saw me play for 15 years! You saw Roy Keane play, you saw Jamie Carragher play. Again, I don’t know if it is a generational thing or not or if they are afraid of upsetting their pal. But for me, if you don’t have a go at somebody it means you don’t care about them, you’re leaving them to it, rather than giving them a gee up when sometimes they need it.”
In his days at Celtic, success was not only expected from those on the outside looking in, it was demanded by the players in the squad.
“[Johan] Mjallby, Lambo [Paul Lambert] was quiet but [Stilian] Petrov could lose it, [Chris] Sutton, [John] Harston, [Henrik] Larsson, they all had strong personalities but you can’t compare what I have got with them. [As Celtic manager] I had Scott Brown who wasn’t shy in coming forward and barking out orders.
“Even if they are not having a good day themselves, it doesn’t matter, because they lead by example. That’s what good players do on the pitch. If they sense that something is not right I want them to be vocal, rather than just turn their back on it and walk away. If they’re not dealing with it there and then, they’re letting the game slide away from them.
“What I want is for these experienced professionals who have won championships and know how to get it done in big games to step up when the bad moments occur.”
What Lennon really wants is for his men to prove themselves capable of managing things when momentum swings away from them.
Citing the experience in his defensive options, he says players like Darren McGregor are vocal, while Marvin Bartley and Anthony Stokes also have plenty of bark. As he prepares for the trip to Dingwall to face Ross County tomorrow, he says he now wants to hear it from others and hear it when it matters.
“I want boys who command the respect of the dressing room,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a dying breed or not but you are looking for someone to lead, to get somebody by the neck and say that’s not acceptable. Or when we lose a goal, give the goalkeeper a shake, that type of thing, just to liven them up a bit and make them concentrate, rather than feel sorry for themselves.”