PAT Fenlon has again claimed that Hibernian have not been given credit for their improvement this season, insisting that “everybody” criticised them for the way they played in their draw against Celtic last week.
Neil Lennon described some of the Hibs players’ challenges as “shocking” and “rugbyesque” after his team’s 1-1 draw at Easter Road, a match in which there were two yellow cards, for home players Liam Craig and Ryan McGivern. Hibs centre-half Michael Nelson responded to the Celtic manager’s words by tweeting “Certain people crying and moaning about tackles” with the hashtag “#man up” and a picture of the facial injury he received as the result of a late challenge – and which has ruled him out of tomorrow’s home game against Aberdeen. And Nelson’s team-mate Rowan Vine, also on Twitter, said he “might get me mate Alan Shearer to send him [Lennon] another Size 9 Umbro special in the dish” – a reference to a previous incident involving Lennon and the former England striker.
Fenlon responded with a good-humoured laugh yesterday when asked to discuss Vine’s remarks, saying he was aware of them and did not want to comment further. But he was altogether more serious when discussing the aftermath of the Celtic game, implying that, no matter what style they played in or what the result was, Hibs were the subjects of unfair criticism.
“I was delighted with the performance from my players and I’ve put it to the side, to be honest. That’s all I was interested in – I’m not too interested in what other people say. I was delighted with the way we approached the game, as that’s what we set out to do, and to make sure we took something from the game.
“Can I put it like this to you, okay? We lost the [Scottish] Cup final and everybody reported that we were soft and we stood off and let Celtic dominate the game.
“Then we go and get after Celtic and everybody has a pop at us, so we can’t win. After the cup final I think everybody had a pop at us and after the league game we got a fair bit of criticism for allegedly playing a certain way – which we didn’t.”
When it was put to him that most of the criticism had in fact come from the Celtic camp, Fenlon continued: “To be honest, I’m not interested in it and I’ve moved away from it. We got a good point at the weekend, we’re disappointed that we did not pick up three after leading for so long, we’re playing Aberdeen this week, Celtic is done and dusted.”
Hibs have now lost just once in their last eight games, and during that run have also progressed to the quarter-finals of the League Cup, in which they meet Hearts next Wednesday. Fenlon’s concern now is that they keep that good run going and do not fall into the common habit of allowing performance levels to drop after raising them for a big game.
“We’ve lost one in nine games so it’s not a bad run,” he continued. “You’ve got to make sure that you bring the same intensity to the game. I think it’s a plus that we’re playing Aberdeen, because there will be a good crowd and it should be a real decent atmosphere as well. Aberdeen are going really well themselves. It’s a good game to bounce into after the Celtic game.
“I think Aberdeen are a good yardstick for us. Everybody has tipped them to be probably behind Celtic, so we have to make sure that we are competitive and match them if we can.
“A win takes us above them in the table and, psychologically, it is good going into the game knowing we can move up another position. That’s always a good incentive going into matches, but we shouldn’t need one at the moment – we’re on a decent run and, if you keep winning games, you go into good areas. If you could pick up four out of six points after playing Celtic and Aberdeen, you would be pleased with that, I suppose.”
The absence of Nelson, who was in hospital yesterday and has a suspected fracture of the eye socket, will force Fenlon into at least one change to last week’s line-up. Jordon Forster should be back in the squad after an injury of his own, but club captain James McPake looks sure to return to partner Paul Hanlon in the heart of defence.
“Michael may have a fracture in his eye socket and we’re awaiting the doctor’s report,” Fenlon explained. “There’s a lot of discolouration in his face but, hopefully, it’s not as bad as it looked. He hasn’t trained this week, so he won’t play against Aberdeen barring a miraculous recovery.
“The good thing is James has been ready to play for the last four weeks, plus we’ve got young Jordon back training as well. James is desperate to get back in the side and he was probably wondering when he was going to get back in because the team was playing so well.
“It changes just like that, though, and now James may have an opportunity to play due to Michael’s being out and he has to grasp it. But that’s the same for everybody, not just James.”