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'He deserves better': Treatment of sacked Hearts boss Craig Levein leaves a bitter taste, says Neil Lennon

Mutual respect: Craig Levein with Neil Lennon before his sacking as Hearts manager
Mutual respect: Craig Levein with Neil Lennon before his sacking as Hearts manager

By Ronnie Esplin

Celtic boss Neil Lennon says the demise of Craig Levein has left "a bitter taste" in his mouth.

The Gorgie club announced that Levein had been relieved of his duties as manager the day after Hearts' 1-0 defeat at St Johnstone on Wednesday night, which left them level with Ladbrokes Premiership bottom side St Mirren on points.

Disgruntled away fans had chanted against the former Hearts defender at McDiarmid Park while a 'Levein out' message was subsequently scrawled on the Foundation Plaza outside the main stand at Tynecastle.

When asked about Levein's departure, Lennon remembered the 'Hang Neil Lennon' graffiti sighted in Edinburgh a year ago following a derby match when he was manager of Hibernian.

"I am very sorry for Craig," said the former Northern Ireland international, who revealed skipper Scott Brown is struggling with a thigh strain ahead of the Betfred Cup semi-final against Hibs at Hampden Park today.

"I know how much he put into the job. Obviously the results weren't what were probably expected for Hearts.

"He was a good football guy and gave everything for the club over the last 20 years.

"It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth the way some people have reacted or treated him in the past few weeks.

"They like a bit of graffiti over there, I know that from my own experience. For a guy who for the majority of his football career and life has been associated with Hearts, he deserves better.

"But he has kept his dignity and I wish him well for the future, whatever he decides to do."

The former Scotland boss will not return to his previous position as director of football at Tynecastle and has stepped down from the club's board, although he will stay on in a lesser role until the end of the season.

Assistant manager Austin MacPhee will take charge for tomorrow's Betfred Cup semi-final against Rangers at Hampden Park.

"He will be sore," said the former Celtic midfielder. "I'm sure it will be bitterly disappointing for him, it meant the world to him I'm sure.

"That's the reality of the job I'm afraid, but there are ways you can treat people and the lack of respect at times for people in this position is appalling really.

"Not just the manager, sometimes the respect towards the players is appalling.

"If a player has a bad game, the vitriol they have to put up with is inexcusable."

Hoops midfielder Brown picked up a thigh injury in the 2-0 home win over St Mirren on Wednesday and had to be replaced.

"Browny is struggling," said Lennon, who also confirmed that striker Vakoun Bayo will see a specialist on Monday about a knee problem. "We will have to assess him in the morning.

"It is too early to say but you have to say he is doubtful.

"It would be a huge blow. He is playing brilliantly, he is the captain and he knows how important these games are so we have to see how he is."

Celtic have won the last nine trophies in Scotland and Lennon is keen to keep the run going.

He said: "It is part of the domestic trophy haul we have kept hold of for the last three years.

"The players are highly motivated to defend the trophy, they are in great form, so there is a lot of incentive there for us."

Meanwhile, Paul Heckingbottom hopes beating Celtic to reach the final could provide a form boost similar to one he experienced at Barnsley.

Hibernian have gone five games without a win as the head coach prepares to lead his side out in the semi-final against the holders today.

Heckingbottom guided Barnsley to Football League Trophy success before promotion via the play-offs in 2016.

"It kept the previous manager in the job - a cup run," he recalled.

Heckingbottom, who was a coach under Lee Johnson, took over as caretaker ahead of the final against Oxford United after the manager's exit to Bristol City.

"It kept the season alive as, November, December, the club were bottom of League One," the 42-year-old said. "We ended up winning a final at Wembley and then getting promoted at Wembley in the same season."

Belfast Telegraph


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