Pat Fenlon has insisted that last week’s historic defeat by Malmo will be neither a millstone round his neck nor a tombstone marking the effective end of his reign as Hibernian manager.
The 7-0 home loss in the Europa league qualifier produced a 9-0 aggregate defeat for Hibs – a record reverse for a Scottish club in Europe. The capitulation by his players produced a fresh wave of speculation about Fenlon’s future, but yesterday he said he remained determined to prove he was getting Hibs back on the right track.
“I look at things and I roll up my sleeves and I say that I will not be defeated and that I will get things right,” Fenlon said when asked how he responded to adversity. “As a player and a manager I have never thrown the tools down or packed it in, and I have always worked hard to get things right. This is all about how we take the club forward. If I can do that great, and if I can’t then someone else will come in and do it. This is about getting things right for the club – it’s not about me.
“Since I have been here the supporters, staff and the board have all been tremendous and I want to put things right for them. The hardest thing to take about last Thursday was letting a lot of people down.”
Fenlon has forced himself to watch the Malmo match four or five times in an effort to identify what precisely went wrong and how to avoid a recurrence. But whatever questions he may have asked himself about the way his team was set up, one thing he did not question was his own position at Easter Road.
“No, I would never do that,” he said. “I will always work as hard as I can to make sure I take the club forward. I’ve said that from day one that I came in here, that as long as I’m here I’ll enjoy it and I’ll work as hard as I can.”
“I think I’m privileged. I think most managers are privileged to work in the game we work in and to work at a football club like this is a privilege for me. I feel disappointed and that I’ve let a lot of people down, more than anything else. Of course it hurts and if it doesn’t then you’re in the wrong game.”
With a year of his two-and-a-half-year contract still to run, Fenlon believes that, no matter how shocking that Malmo score was, he has got Hibs heading in the right direction. “If you take the Malmo game out of it – and I know that is hard to do – but we were 11th and we finished seventh and played in two Scottish Cup finals,” he said.
“I know people don’t see progress, but from 11th to seventh in my day was always progress, and we have to push on and make the top six this season. We’ve had a bad result in Europe, but we now start the league campaign. We have to get ourselves into a position where we’re automatically in the top six come the split.”
The Malmo tie was clearly far from ideal preparation for Hibs’ league campaign, which begins on Sunday with a home game against Motherwell, but Fenlon pointed out that his team had a poor result in their opening league game last season before embarking on an impressive series of results which briefly took them to the top of the table.
“We didn’t hit the ground running last season, as we lost 0-3 to Dundee United away on the opening day, but we went on a good run after that. We’ve had a poor result and we have to use that as motivation to put things right on Sunday against Motherwell – and I have to make sure that the players are prepared properly to play.”
Hibs will have to put things right without several first-team regulars. Centre-half Jordon Forster and striker Rowan Vine are suspended, James McPake, Paul Cairney, Tim Clancy and Bradley Donaldson are all out injured, and Ryan McGivern has no more than a slight chance, according to his manager, of being passed fit to play. New signing Michael Nelson is expected to go straight into the squad.