Given the way he was feeling on Wednesday night, it is unlikely that even a final day victory over Rangers would placate Neil Lennon. Defeat by Hearts left the Hibernian manager raging against the reality of his side being ruled out of the reckoning for second place. His withering attack on his own players saw Lennon brand them “unprofessional” as he threatened to walk away from the club he led to promotion last season and to an impressive first campaign in the top flight. His failure to show at the training ground for Friday’s pre-match press conference simply stoked the fires of uncertainty.
Lennon had designs on finishing runners-up but unless Hibs better the Ibrox side by six goals in front of a packed Easter Road crowd this afternoon the fact is they will end their first season back in the Premiership in fourth place and will have to rely on Celtic winning the Scottish Cup next weekend to gift them a shot at the Europa League qualifiers next term.
In the emotional aftermath of the derby defeat, the Leith boss made it clear that, in his opinion, that was not good enough. And it left him questioning players he has spent the past few months lauding and publicly pondering the aims of a club many feared would never be big enough to sate his ambitions after years of battling for titles as a player and a manager with Celtic.
But, it is that winning mentality that has driven Hibs on, even if Lennon’s initial knee-jerk reactions are often bothersome to both the players and club insiders.
“We know how the manager responds to us playing poorly and rightly so, we didn’t play well on the night. The boys are just as disappointed as him,” said Steven Whittaker, right, who described Lennon as a great manager to play for, but he felt the assessment of the team’s performance against Hearts was harsh.
“We’re looking at the season as a whole and we’ve done well,” continued the defender. “The manager will know that when everyone takes a step [back] and takes a look at it, it will be a positive season for the club.
“The reaction to the other night is hard to take and it’s understandable with the derby. We now can’t get second and it’s a tough one to take. But when you look at the season as a whole it’s been decent.
“We’re looking at this fixture in particular that stopped us but if you look across the whole season with the points we’ve dropped where we maybe should have taken all three…”
Which is where Lennon needs to honestly assess his part in it all. Or decide if he was hamstrung by the club, its recruitment process or budget. One thing that has proved costly has been the lack of clinical goalscorers early in the campaign, when Hibs had countless chances to add to their points tally and bolster their goal difference in such a way that would have made today’s task less daunting. Lennon found the necessary personnel in January but, signed on loan deals, the process of bartering for a prolonged stay or replacing them begins again. The club has the option to sign Florian Kamberi but don’t yet know what will happen with other loanees Jamie Maclaren, Scott Allan and Brandon Barker. And they are not the only ones Hibs may need to replace, with Dylan McGeouch almost sure to leave and John McGinn likely to have suitors.
The club will not go crazy and burst their budget simply to keep their volatile manager. But they will try to work with him to dilute the impact of other clubs in the country having greater spending power and task him with unearthing hidden gems. They will support him in his dark days and offer him more leeway than others, and they will give him the chance to challenge for silverware and European involvement.
Away from the rawness of a derby defeat and considering the wider image, Lennon’s assistant Garry Parker believes the man who took over two years ago and still has two years left on his contract, will see things differently.
“I’m here to try to pick the players up as well as the manager,” Parker said. “And we’ve had a good season so it seems to work. It’s not a bad thing that he lets the players know how high the standards are here. He wants success and the players have said time and again this season that he drives them on.
“Obviously they’re disappointed in his comments but at the same time they know what he’s all about.”
Knowing Lennon better than most, Parker knows it is about driving things on. “We have to bring quality players in to replace [the outgoing players] because they’re good players we’re potentially losing. We finished fourth this year – we have to get people in to help us get higher than that, because that’s our aim.”
But first they will focus on beating Rangers and ensuring that, after a turbulent week, a very good season finishes on a high.