IT’S NOT the way Hibs would have wanted to start the season.
Even before the first ball of the Premiership campaign is kicked they have the fans on their backs and manager Pat Fenlon is under the kind of pressure that suggests he is unlikely to survive one more bad result.
The cracks of once again missing out on a top-six finish last season were painted over thanks to derby results and a second successive Scottish Cup final appearance but with their hero of last term, Leigh Griffiths, back down at Wolves and another influential player, Jorge Claros, away after his loan deal expired, they have had to rebuild the squad and go into the first game of the season weighed down by more questions than obvious answers.
They also go into that game with the very raw memories of the 7-0 thumping at the hands of Malmo torturing fans. A lot of work and some early victories will be needed to appease fans who have run out of patience with Fenlon, who oversaw that humiliation as well as the 5-1 Scottish Cup embarrassment against Hearts.
“We are just concentrating on the first game of the season now and taking it from there,” said defender Paul Hanlon, who refused to discuss the manager’s position but said the only way Hibs can salvage anything from the Malmo result is if they use the disappointment as a spur as they head into the new campaign, which starts with a home match against last season’s second-placed side Motherwell then a trip to Tynecastle for the first capital derby of the season.
That derby game is now vital if they want to get the supporters back on side. “We want to get off to a winning start,” said Hanlon. “We started well last season and got to near the top of the league [they were in fact top at one stage] and if we can do that again without the dip in form we had last year then we can hopefully do better than last year.
“We now realise what’s needed. We had a couple of good results in pre-season and even against [Nottingham] Forest, we played well. Although we never got a win in that game, the confidence was high. It’s taken a bit of a dent now but we just need to pick ourselves back up and be fully focused on the campaign now. We want to be back in Europe this time next season but it is a long campaign ahead and we need to be ready for it.”
Last season Hibs were able to call on the considerable talents of Griffiths to help them to otherwise unlikely victories and, although the forward ranks have been boosted by the signings of Rowan Vine and James Collins, it will be difficult for one individual to replicate Griffiths’ impact.