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Neil Lennon fired up for bid to lead Hibernian back to the top flight

By Graham Luney

After the nightmare, Neil Lennon craved the dream... but it wasn't to be.

With a turbulent and mentally draining spell at Bolton still fresh in his memory, the Lurgan man wanted a return to the Celtic hotseat and another taste of Paradise but the Hoops put their faith in another Ulsterman, Brendan Rodgers (below), leaving Lennon to search for the next best thing.

The former Northern Ireland international believes he has grasped it with the Hibernian job, even though there will be claims that it represents a step down in his managerial career.

For a man who enjoyed Champions League battles as Parkhead supremo, even humbling the mighty Barcelona on an unforgettable night in Glasgow four years ago, the challenge of steering Hibs back to the top-flight after an absence of three years doesn't carry the same glamour.

But as far as Lenny is concerned, his batteries are recharged and competitive juices are flowing again after the painful chapter at Bolton.

He exited the Championship club in March with his side at the foot of the table and with the club in financial trouble and having just been taken over by the Sports Shield consortium.

His old Celtic team-mate Tom Boyd argues Lennon, who won five Scottish league titles as a Celtic player before claiming three during his time as boss, has nothing to prove at Hibernian despite his nightmare stint in charge of Bolton.

The reality is quite different as the 44-year-old will be hungry to remind everyone that he is a winner and ready to win admirers in Scottish football once again.

It would be easy to conclude that the Easter Road club should stroll back to the big time but even the much lauded Alan Stubbs, who masterminded the side's first Scottish Cup win since 1902, failed to drag the club out of the Championship in successive seasons.

Lennon's first significant task will be to hold onto the club's top talents such as John McGinn, Jason Cummings, David Gray and Paul Hanlon and then he must inject some steel and resilience into the side.

A Celtic return was never really a realistic option after Lenny had highlighted a lack of resources being made available to him by the Hoops hierarchy when he quit in 2014.

But when it emerged that Stubbs had left for Rotherham, the former Leicester City star became a hot favourite to net the Hibs role and he even turned down a lucrative move to China to kick-start his career back in Scotland.

Lennon, who will be joined in his move to Edinburgh by former Parkhead assistant Garry Parker, is no different than any other manager in the sense that he is powerless without the right support on and off the pitch.

Bolton were sinking under crippling debts and he never had a chance.

Hibs, despite not swimming with the big boys in the Scottish Premiership, are one of the biggest clubs in Scotland and Lenny will be out to seize this opportunity to show his real pedigree as a manager again.

Former Hoops captain Boyd expects him to be a big hit in Leith, saying: "I don't think anybody will have the wrong impression of Neil after Bolton.

"Everybody knows the reasons for why things happened there.

"There have been plenty of examples over the years where managers struggle because of the financial circumstances at a club."

Hibs confirmed last night that Lennon had agreed a two-year deal.

Chief executive Leeann Dempster said: "As soon as Neil was identified as the outstanding candidate we were determined to bring him to Easter Road.

"He has managed at a very high level, taking Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League, and we were attracted by his ability to get the most out of players and his driven, winning mentality.

"On behalf of everyone at Hibernian FC we would like to extend a warm welcome to both Neil and Garry."

Lennon said: "This is a big club with a fantastic tradition and of course they've got the monkey off their back with the Scottish Cup win.

"I won't have that pressure! It's a great club with a great support.

"The budget will be strong for the division but I don't think we will be favourites.

"I know Scottish football very well and I played in the lower leagues earlier in my career.

"I don't have an issue with working in the Championship. It was the club that attracted me."

Lennon's budget will be modest, but his ambitions certainly won't be.

And perhaps Celtic's decision to overlook him and turn to Rodgers will add even more fuel to his fire.

Belfast Telegraph


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