Lennon: Gesture? I was only celebrating
NOT for the first time, Neil Lennon was at the centre of controversy at Ibrox yesterday.
The Hibs manager steered his side to a famous 3- 2 win to heap pressure on Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha.
But the Irishman riled the home support, and the Light Blues’ assistant manager, Helder Baptista, with a series of gestures on the touchline.
Baptista was so irate he reported what he’d seen to the police.
But afterwards Lennon insisted: “I’m celebrating a goal, so what way are you supposed to celebrate a goal?”
“You are looking for things that aren’t there.”
THE early days of the new season and an absolute belter between these old rivals.
Hibs’ historic, and trouble- hit, victory in the 2016 Scottish Cup Final was the last time these clubs met.
Here in front of a packed Ibrox which fairly thrummed from start to finish, they went at each other as if trying their best to make up for lost time.
And when the dust had settled yesterday not only was the score the same as in that momentous meeting at Hampden Park, but also the outcome with the Edinburgh side again claiming the honours.
It was frantic stuff and not the result Pedro Caixinha – with the jury still out on his suitability to be Rangers manager – needed.
His midfielder Ryan Jack was sent off after clashing with Anthony Stokes, who was booked. Eight other players were shown yellow cards.
The visitors’ manager, Neil Lennon, would have received his marching orders to the stand had referee John Beaton not missed his offensive arm gestures to the Light Blues fans in the main stand at Hibs’ equaliser.
Light Blues assistant manager Helder Baptista certainly didn’t miss it for he could be seen complaining to the police.
This was a contest of non- stop incident and one punctuated by some great goals, none better than Hibs’ third from the former Juventus player Vykintas Slivka.
It also had a quite sensational atmosphere as a backdrop.
With both sets of supporters belting out songs at full volume, this had the feel of a league decider at kickoff time rather than a start- of- season clash.
And Lennon, later a sinner, did his bit to contribute to the sense of drama, renewing acquaintance with the Rangers support for the first time since the 2016 Scottish Cup Final by placing his fingers on his left lobe. It was a playful reference all the way back to 2011 when, as Celtic manager, he infamously cupped his hands to his ears in a gesture to the home fans.
In the opposition technical area, Caixinha who had exchanged a handshake with his opposite number seconds earlier, watched on impassively.
At least, that was, until the action began.
Within three minutes of the first whistle sounding, the Portuguese was leaping about, pumping his fist in the air again and again in celebration of his side’s near instant breakthrough. Simple stuff it was too. Daniel Candeias swung in a free kick from deep inside Hibs’ half and Alfredo Morelos rose highest to power a header into the net.
It was the striker’s third goal in four days and for a while all was well with the home side.
Hibs, though, were not in the mood to be cowed.
By the time quarter of the match was over they were level, courtesy of a lovely run and placed finish from Simon Murray.
The striker, a summer pick- up from Dundee United, showed both pace to beat Fabio Cardoso and precision to then find the far corner of the net.
By half- time they led, Rangers defender James Tavernier having put through his own net when trying to clear a Vykintas Slivka shot.
Sandwiched in between the goals was the dismissal of Ryan Jack.
The former Aberdeen skipper saw red for aiming a head butt at Stokes.
“I’d have to have a look at it again but if Ryan has made any kind of motion with his head then in this day and age it is a sending off,” said Jack’s teammate Kenny Miller.
“The referee was pretty positive that there was some kind of forward motion with his head so he was quite happy with his decision.”
It wasn’t a huge shock to see the numbers reduced.
This one had been very nasty almost from the moment Stokes and Tavernier tangled in the opening minutes.
The red card didn’t really detract from the entertainment, at least not for the neutrals.
Slivka scored a beauty when bringing the ball outside the Rangers box and slamming a 25- yard effort home.
Rangers’ final contribution to the goals haul was less flash, a Tavernier header at the back post, but no less creditable.
Bring on the next one between this pair.
Neil Lennon’s gestures on the Ibrox touchline yesterday upset the home fans and Rangers’ assistant boss, Helder Baptista.
■ Ryan Jack was red carded for this clash with Hibs’ Anthony Stokes.