Lennon: I did not question Hearts desire
Ahead of tonight's appearance at a venue guaranteed to be hostile to him, Neil Lennon attempted to take the heat out of the controversy generated when he said that he wanted Rangers' remaining opponents to give them more of a game than they got against Motherwell or Hearts.
Lennon -- who accepted his accolade as Scotland's Manager of the Month for April yesterday -- reacted testily when asked if he thought there would be a knock-on effect when his Celtic side meet Jim Jefferies' Hearts at Tynecastle.
"I don't care," he retorted. "I'm not the one misinterpreting my quotes. I think it's irresponsible. I think the people who asked Jim the questions at his press conference yesterday knew they were trying to get a reaction from him.
"So they're not being accurate with the question. Jim's doing a press conference and these people are asking questions -- 'Neil Lennon said this, Neil Lennon said that'. Neil Lennon didn't say that at all.
"You know that it was misinterpreted. I haven't accused anyone of not trying. I said there was little evidence in the 5-0 and 4-0 defeats, but that's not an accusation, it's more of an observation."
Jefferies said: "We played on Saturday to try and win the game. I thought it was a little bit disrespectful.
"I get on fine with Neil -- I have no problems and I'm not out to cause anything. Yes, they (the Hearts players) made mistakes, yes they were overpowered -- but Ibrox was as noisy as I've ever seen it and the only reason it was like that was because Celtic handed Rangers the initiative.
"I think it's wrong to accuse us. We're not trying hard to win at Ibrox for Celtic and we're not going to try hard against Celtic for Rangers' benefit -- we're trying to do it for our own."
Team selection at Tynecastle is not, however, exclusively a matter reserved for Jefferies, who has found -- like his predecessors under Vladimir Romanov -- that the club's autocratic owner intervenes as he pleases. Jefferies was unable to call on Marian Kello and Marius Zaliukas against Rangers, but it appears the former will be back in goal tonight, after an absence of several weeks, while his colleague will be restored to defence.
Lennon expressed feeling for his counterpart, stressing that he had not been subject to any such difficulties at Parkhead. "I don't think it's fair. Why have a manager? Do it yourself," he said.
Eggert Jonsson is also available for Hearts, despite being sent off against Rangers, because the club have appealed against his suspension. Lennon, meanwhile, disclosed that he would not make up his mind about team selection until he knew the result from last night's Rangers versus Dundee United match.
"I have good players," he said. "Ki (Sung-Yueng) is an exceptionally talented young player and we want him here for a long time. We have (Shaun) Maloney and (James) Forrest fit -- we have got players in wide areas as well, and players who can hurt teams.''
Emilio Izaguirre, Charlie Mulgrew, Cha and Glen Loovens are all fit and will be in the squad for Tynecastle, a ground where Lennon has experienced many an eventful outing, most recently in November, when Hearts won 2-0 and the Celtic manager was sent to the stand and reported for excessive misconduct. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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