BEFORE Pat Fenlon had actually gone, news of his exit from Hibernian was being posted online, with a link to the “full story”.
What came up? Something from the horrible archives: the match report of the worst result in the club’s history, the 5-1 Scottish Cup tanking by Hearts. There then followed “New Easter Road manager confirmed” and this time the link dredged up the gory detail of Hibs 0 Malmo 7, the second-worst result ever. It’s safe to say these postings were traps set by Jambos, every bit as crafty as the one laid by their team in the League Cup.
Fair play to them. But what of wee Pat, the little guy in the black tracksuit who presided over those two shockers, and who never smiled much and put out a team with a similarly gloomy countenance? Did he deserve more time for what these days is termed a “project”? Or had he been given enough chances, transfer windows and £200,000 cheques to spend on strikers?
Cliche alert: I don’t like seeing anyone lose their job. That said, this plainly wasn’t working.
Cliche alert: Hibs fans are used to good football. Jambos will scoff but it’s true. Didn’t see much flair under Bobby Williamson, the Hearts lot will say. Correct, but the supporters didn’t appoint Bobby. Pat, I’m fairly certain, doesn’t trust flair. When hired he could bat away inquiries about cavalier tradition because the club were flirting with relegation. The fans will want a winning team, he said, and at that moment he was right. But, once stability had been established, what did he do? Played one up front. Luckily, that was Leigh Griffiths, who’s so hyperactive and keen to shoot from anywhere that the impression was sometimes given that Hibs had a five-man forward line. But it was a false impression, as was obvious the moment Griffiths left.
Right now, there’s more than just stability in Hibs’ favour. They have licence for a bit of fun. Rangers being out of the picture is a bit like a houseful of children (all the diddy teams) being left with one parent in charge (Celtic) who is distracted in any case (by the Champions League). There should be laughter. There should be goals. There should be a terrific contest for best-of-the-rest. Motherwell and Inverness understood this last season, and now Aberdeen have read the script. But where, with all their pretensions and especially with Hearts starting from minus 15, are Hibs?
Fenlon was a cautious manager to the last and one who, it’s emerged, was recommended by another cautious manager, Mr 4-6-0 himself, Craig Levein. Pat’s midfield was clogged with players too similar to each other, who are tenacious (Fenlon was this himself, apparently) but lack a killer pass. Against Aberdeen last Saturday and Hearts, they would play triangles in safe parts of the pitch until one of them thumped the ball out. Those offering a trick or two didn’t seem to last, although, to be fair, the promising Alex Harris has been injured.
Fenlon’s signings? Ben Williams is a good goalie, the first in a while who doesn’t resemble “a drunk trying to catch a balloon” (© Jim Duffy). Can’t say I’ve been wildly impressed by the rest.
Game-changing abilities? Outwitted by Paulo Sergio 18 months ago, Fenlon was presumed to have delivered the half-time team-talk of his life at 3-0 down to Falkirk. At half-time on Wednesday, Hibs hadn’t been diabolical. They’d played well and been caught with a sucker punch. But whatever was said didn’t translate on to the pitch, and a great cup opportunity was gone. These are the moments when managers really earn their money.
Of course, blowing great cup opportunities has been a fine Easter Road tradition since long before Fenlon. He’s merely been the latest to fail at cracking one of the great, befuddlingly unknowable mysteries – why the big occasion renders Hibs big jessies.
Let’s not forget Rod Petrie, below, here. He appoints these guys. John Hughes was sacked too soon, Colin Calderwood was kept too long. Fenlon was a cheap option for a chairman who boasts of Hibs being second-best at finishing their arithmetic homework on time, or whatever.
Pat seemed haunted by those two horror shows. Hardly surprisingly really but, given Hibs’ alleged progress, Hearts’ perceived callowness and it being anyone’s League Cup, he then had a truly dreadful Halloween. All things considered, it was probably the biggest disappointment of the lot.