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Butcher thinks Lennon would cut the mustard at Norwich

AS a favoured son of their East Anglian rivals Ipswich, you might expect Terry Butcher to be mildly disparaging about the ongoing possibility of Neil Lennon jumping ship to Norwich City in the event that the current incumbent, Chris Hughton, proves incapable of keeping them out of the relegation zone.

Terry Butcher thinks Neil Lennon has earned a shot at the Premier League in England Photograph:SNS
Terry Butcher thinks Neil Lennon has earned a shot at the Premier League in England Photograph:SNS

But not only does the Hibs boss feel his Celtic counterpart, with whom he maintains a close relationship, has "earned" the right to be linked with Barclay's Premier League jobs, he can fully understand it if the Northern Irishman can see the attraction in moving on from the pressurised crucible of the Parkhead manager's office, even if his destination isn't one of England's traditional "big" clubs.

"You're not always in charge of your future in terms of timing and sometimes a situation comes along and you think, 'well, I'll just go for that' and that may well be the case with Neil," said Butcher. "You always have a hankering to manage in the top flight of any league, in any country, so I think he would love to move down south and test himself in the Premier League but it's about opportunities and timing and availability too. He is doing a bloody good job at the moment. Players have left who are real good quality players and the spine of his team and to replace that with more quality and continue the work he is doing under the spotlight he is under, he has earned it.

"Celtic is a huge institution, an unbelievably big club, a worldwide club, but to go to something smaller but in the Premier League, he might still welcome that. I don't know, I can't speak for him," said Butcher.

"But when I left Rangers as a player it was like you were taking a big cloak of pressure off and putting it to one side and I was like 'wow, there is life after the Old Firm' so I can see that point of view completely. Moving to the Premier League, whatever club you move to, it's still the Premier League, which is where everybody wants to be. Neil's hope as a manager is that he moves to a good, big club in the Premier League. I like Neil a lot, him and me get on really well, so I hope that does happen for him."

Having said that, Lennon has no shortage of unfinished business to be getting on with in the meantime. In the future, there are Champions League runs and domestic trebles to be plotted, while this season there is that season-long unbeaten run to be maintained. There is a wider suggestion out there that such Celtic dominance should automatically be regarded as malign but the perspective of August 1989 and the beginning of the nine-in-a-row years at Rangers allows Butcher to put an alternative spin on things.

"Well, was it bad in the Premier League down south when Arsenal went a whole season undefeated?" asked Butcher. "There you go, there's your answer. I don't think it's bad at all. I think it's great and it shows professionalism from Celtic."

Hibs today would dearly love to become the first domestic team, outwith Morton in the League Cup, to take Celtic's scalp this season. The Parkhead side's last two visits to Easter Road have resulted in a 1-1 draw last October, and a 1-0 defeat the previous December, while Butcher has beaten Celtic with both Motherwell and Inverness.

The Englishman's start at Hibs has been steady rather than spectacular, but there is a freshness about the club epitomised by Jason Cummings. The 18-year-old striker has played seven times for the first team, and still feels inclined to pinch himself, given that as recently as six months ago - following a couple of serious knee injuries and release by Hearts - he was earning a living as a gardener.

"When I was a gardener it's just a bang average job," said Cummings, a product of respected youth team Hutchison Vale. "I was getting up at half seven in the morning pulling out weeds, getting muddy hands and sitting in a stinky van. Coming in here every morning I'm doing what I love - playing football. That was my dream since I was a boy so I wouldn't fancy going back to do that.

"I got raised a Jambo but I don't look at their results any more," Cummings added. "When they let me go I lost a bit of respect for the club. It's good that my uncle and a few others in my family are Hibs fans so I've started to change sides. I now go to my uncle's for tea rather than the other side of the family."

Cummings could even have been playing for today's opponents, having spent a week training with Celtic's Under-20 side.

"I didn't really feel welcomed," he admitted. "I felt like an outsider. They wanted me to come back for pre-season training for another trial. But Hibs said they were going to sign me and I got a two-year youth contract so I've got this year and next year. The manager isn't scared to give young players their chance and he makes you feel good about yourself."

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