HIBERNIAN manager Pat Fenlon has urged his club’s supporters to embrace the return of former captain Kevin Thomson to the club.
The 28-year-old midfielder, who was released by Middlesbrough at the end of January, is expected to sign for Hibs until the end of the season after spending the past two weeks training with Fenlon’s squad.
Thomson’s relationship with the Hibs supporters soured in the wake of his departure from the club six years ago, when he joined Rangers in a £2 million deal shortly after being stripped of the captaincy by then manager John Collins. But Fenlon has been hugely impressed by Thomson’s ability and attitude during his recent training stint and insists he would not have pursued the player’s signature if he did not detect a genuine hunger to do well for the club. “I don’t have any concerns about how he left the club,” said Fenlon. “We’ve all said and done things we regret in our careers. I’ve done that myself. I don’t know the ins and outs of what happened when he was here before. But I think the fact he wants to come back and play here tells its own story.
“He’s always been that type of player, with real determinaton on the park. He looks to me as if he has plenty of hunger and ambition about him.
“That’s a positive, because if he didn’t it wouldn’t be any good for either party. He has shown a real desire to train really well, even when not officially part of the squad, so that’s a big plus.”
Fenlon refused to disclose any details of Thomson’s agreement with Hibs but says there has been no change to the club’s previously stated position that they could not pay any money to recruit him. “There has been no compromise,” said Fenlon. “I said at the start we didn’t have any money to do it and we still don’t. But he has indicated he wants to come in and play, which is fantastic.
“It’s between the club and Kevin how it is done. I’m delighted to have a quality player on board. I said at the start we have to live within our means and that’s what we are trying to do.”
Thomson has not played since 18 January, when he made his final appearance for Middlesbrough, and Fenlon said there was no prospect of him being in the starting line-up against Hearts at Easter Road tomorrow even if he was registered in time.
“We won’t be throwing Kevin straight into the team, that’s for certain,” added Fenlon. “He’s like everyone who comes into the club, you’ve got to work hard and earn the right to play. The players who have been picked have done really well over the last few weeks. But to be able to bring in a player of his calibre is a big help at this stage of the season. He gives us something different, which is great for the league run-in and for the Scottish Cup semi-final as well. He’s been in here for a couple of weeks, he’s obviously liked what he has seen and enjoyed the training. He’s got on really well with the rest of the players.
“He’s going to bring a wealth of experience having played for the club and played in the league. He’s played in some really big games and we’ve got some big games coming up over the next few months.
“People are asking if he’s fit – well, he’s trained really well over the last couple of weeks. It’s different when you go into matches, so only time will tell.”
Fenlon also confirmed his interest in 24-year-old South African striker Vaughan Miller who has had a training spell with Hibs. “He has done quite well and we’ve been impressed by him,” said Fenlon. “But we are not in a position to sign him, unless he wants to do a Kevin Thomson! We will maybe look at him for next season.”
Striking reinforcements may be necessary for Fenlon, of course, if Hibs are unable to hold on to top scorer Leigh Griffiths beyond the end of the season.
The on-loan Wolves player missed out on a place in the Scotland squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Serbia but Fenlon believes he will eventually be rewarded for his current form, which was recognised yesterday with the SPL player of the month award for February. “Scotland have some real good-quality forwards,” observed Fenlon. “All Leigh can do is put it in people’s minds that he’s capable of playing at that level. Gordon Strachan is a very experienced manager so I’m not going to tell him how to do his job. But Leigh is a young player making real progress and if he keeps doing that then he’ll have plenty of time to play for Scotland.”
Fenlon, who lost his first three Edinburgh derbies as Hibs manager last season, including the 5-1 Scottish Cup final drubbing at Hampden, will look to extend this campaign’s unbeaten record against the Tynecastle club to four matches tomorrow. Hibs are regarded as favourites by the majority of observers, a rare occurrence in recent years. “That doesn’t make any difference to me,” shrugged Fenlon. “When we came into the club, it was about improving the results in general. If you do that, then you will improve your results in relation to the derby game.
“Hearts have had the ascendancy over Hibs for a long time. As well as trying to change the fortune of the club, we have to try and change that as well.”
Fenlon will face a new foe across the technical area in Gary Locke but says he will pay little heed to any changes in approach that the caretaker Hearts manager brings to the fixture. “Gary has obviously been there a long, long time,” added Fenlon. “It’s no surprise he wants the team to play the way he thinks is best for Hearts. But we don’t concentrate on their team. We’ve been playing quite well recently and we have to make sure we continue to do that.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t get caught up in the helter-skelter of the game this Sunday. We need to try and get the ball down and pass it as well as we can. We have worked on that during the week and will work on it again on Saturday. We need to try and stick to our game plan and nullify what the Hearts strengths are.
“We’ve got some really good players at the moment. I thought the three boys in midfield last Sunday were really, really good. So we have to get it down and try to play it through them if we can.”
Irish defender Tim Clancy returns to the Hibs squad but Paul Hanlon will miss out again with a hip injury, which is expected to sideline him for at least another two weeks.