'Hibs reinvigorated me' - Celtic boss Neil Lennon looks back at his time at Easter Road

Capital outfit will pose threat when they travel west on Sunday

Friday, 25th September 2020, 10:30 pm
Updated Friday, 25th September 2020, 11:21 pm
Hibs got Neil Lennon back off the ground - and he benefited them hugely too.
Hibs got Neil Lennon back off the ground - and he benefited them hugely too.

Neil Lennon has praised Hibs for helping “reinvigorate” him as a manager as Celtic prepare to host the Easter Road club on Sunday afternoon.

Although there was an abrupt end to his spell in charge, Lennon looks back on his time at Hibs with a great deal of affection. It's where he re-discovered his love for football after a trying spell with the financially-stricken Bolton Wanderers.

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He has since returned to his beloved Celtic and steered the club to nine-in-a-row last season. It is hard to imagine he would have been handed the chance to achieve this – nor have the opportunity to secure the unprecedented ten-in-a-row success this season – if he had not proved his managerial worth again at Hibs, when he came close to leading the side to a second-placed finish in the Premiership in the 2017/18 campaign after winning the Championship and promotion the season before. Lennon seems well aware of the significant place Hibs occupies in his own personal history.

Similarly, he was good for them. Lennon led the team to two cup semi-finals during his two-and-a-half-year stay after replacing Alan Stubbs.

The Northern Irishman’s other notable contributions include handing defender Ryan Porteous his full debut against Rangers in February 2018 and helping develop Martin Boyle into an international-class winger. Both are set to feature against the champions this weekend.

“I loved my time at Hibs,” said Lennon, speaking in the wake of Celtic’s 1-0 Europa League win over Riga FC. “I had a brilliant time. I had a brilliant group of players and good people in the background. It’s a great club with a great support.

“I had a couple of fantastic years with getting promotion and then getting into Europe. There were a couple of semi-finals too and we played with a real sort of swagger and freedom.

“I really did enjoy myself there, enjoyed it immensely. My time there reinvigorated me as a manager. The first time I went in I felt Stubbsy had left me a very good squad. They’d not long won the Scottish Cup. I just looked at the players and felt we had a chance. They kicked on and everything we asked of them they did very well.

“It was difficult to maintain the standards set in those first few years. But I had a brilliant time at the club.”

Lennon left in still slightly mysterious circumstances on the first day of February last year. However, few could argue about his positive impact at the club, where he was handed a supremely difficult task. Stubbs’ last act as manager was to bring the Scottish Cup to the club for the first in 114 years. Lennon did all he could and won the Championship title before turning Hibs into such an impressive top-flight force the following season.

Hibs stuttered during the following campaign, their inconsistent form eventually leading to Lennon’s departure, and they were similarly slow out of the starting blocks under Paul Heckingbottom last season.

Now under Jack Ross, Lennon has been impressed with their attacking verve – and their willingness to take the game to the opposition, as shown in the 2-2 draw with Rangers last weekend. Lennon has been well warned.

“Hibs have got that in them and I was impressed with how they approached the Rangers game,” he said. “They’ve got some really good players.

“Boyle I know very well, he’s a big threat. [Kevin] Nisbet and [Christian] Doidge are playing really well. And Porteous and (Paul) Hanlon offer a good blend of youth and experience at the back. So, the team complements itself very well at the minute.

“It’s obviously still very early in the season — but they’ve made a great start and we’re very wary of Hibs. Any team that takes points off ourselves [last season] and Rangers has to be respected. We need to keep an eye on them.”

Lennon is particularly proud at the way Porteous has responded to serious injury as well as criticisms of his all-action style. Rangers manager Steven Gerrard was the latest to question the Hibs defender’s methods after last week’s draw. Porteous and Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos tangled on numerous occasions.

“Ryan’s had a few injuries, so he needs a run of games,” said Lennon. “At his age I think he’s got real good leadership qualities.

“He’s aggressive in the air and is a really good defender. It’s not surprising you’ve seen him do so well. I think he’s got a great temperament for the game.”

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