Neil Lennon insists vendetta 'long gone' after infamous spat with Rudi Skacel

FOR all that the Hearts fans are loving having Rudi Skacel back in the maroon, there are others who apparently remember his first spell at the club with less sugared sentiment.

Embroiled in a controversy stirred up by his unsavoury singing about the midfielder, Derek Riordan's rash tackle on the Czech player, which earned him a red card in the latest Edinburgh derby, would suggest that the Hibs attacker is still in no mood to bury the hatchet.

But, ahead of this evening's Scottish Premier League match in Gorgie, Celtic manager Neil Lennon says he does not see the point in harbouring a grudge, despite branding Skacel "the lowest of the low" the last time they shared a pitch, in May 2006.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That was when a visibly livid Lennon accused his opponent of spitting on him during Celtic's 3-0 defeat at Tynecastle, sparking a furious war of words. Skacel always denied the claims but the former Parkhead captain was unremitting, saying he was "not in the business of making things up. I know what happened and I'm adamant about that. I would not have reacted unless something did happen."

But, with the referee failing to spot the incident and television footage proving inconclusive, the Edinburgh club suggested the slur was intended as a way of distracting one of their key players as the team moved towards splitting the Old Firm and securing second place in the SPL.

More than four years on and the pair will face up again at Tynecastle, but Lennon's perspective, literally and metaphorically, has changed. He will watch the tussle from the technical area this time and while he stands by his original accusation, stating that his recollections of that day are of having to "wipe gob off the back of my neck", he adds that enough time has elapsed to render the incident insignificant in respect of this evening's head-to-head, with a victory his only concern. "It's done now, it's four or five years ago. He's been down in England, he's come back, he's made a very good start to his career again here. He's a big favourite of the fans and he's a player we need to keep an eye on. But as far as personal vendettas go that's long gone.

"Tynecastle is always a fixture to whet the appetite from Celtic's perspective but it's important we go there and win the game, to keep the pressure on. It's a great venue. There was always a very good atmosphere and a bit of needle in the game as well. Hearts were a strong team in those days, they ended up finishing second that season and there was a bit of extra spice to the games then. I don't think that's as pertinent now but the atmosphere will be warm.

"I want the players to connect and respond to that.There is no comparison with Celtic v Rangers, and I don't know if there is a bitterness, I'm sure there is, between the fans but it's not really there among the players.

"We have won 9-0 at the weekend, which is a very rare occurrence in the game and our response to losing against Rangers has been very positive, we have scored 15 goals in three games, but that won't matter a fig if we don't do it tomorrow night and drop points. It's important that we concentrate on Hearts. I watched them at the weekend, they had a very good result, they were the better team on Sunday."

With Thomas Rogne suspended, Jos Hooiveld and Glenn Loovens are vying for a start alongside Daniel Majstorovic in central defence, with both players in need of redeeming displays. "Jos has been fit and ready to play for the past few weeks. Loovens is back in contention as well. He lost a bit of form, simple as that. He was playing pretty well until a couple of weeks ago. We just felt we needed to change things around. We have competition in all areas. That's life at a big club."