LEIGH Griffiths’ bid to become the first Hibs player for 40 years to score 30 goals in a season could be restricted by his own manager after Pat Fenlon revealed he is considering leaving the striker out of tonight’s re-arranged SPL fixture at Kilmarnock.
Keen to ensure the talismanic on-loan Wolves player is in optimum condition for the Scottish Cup final against Celtic at on 26 May, Fenlon may order the 22-year-old to miss at least one of the remaining two league games.
Hibs wrap up their SPL programme at home to Dundee on Saturday, a fixture when Fenlon is perhaps more likely to field a line-up as close as possible to the one he hopes can end the club’s Scottish Cup hoodoo at Hampden the following weekend.
Griffiths scored his 28th goal of the season in last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Hearts at Tynecastle, equalling the tally last achieved by Steve Cowan in 1985-86. After being named Clydesdale Bank SPL Player of the Season on Monday night, he expressed his desire to become the first to reach the 30-goal mark since Alan Gordon and Jimmy O’Rourke both did so back in 1972-73, with 42 and 34 goals respectively.
But Fenlon insists that can play no part in how he decides to use Griffiths, in red-hot form with 13 goals in his last 13 games, over the next ten days.
“Sentiment won’t come into it,” said Fenlon. “Leigh has got it into his head that he can get 30 goals or more, so we have to take that into account. But I have to manage the team in a way I think will be the best over the three games we have got left.
“I don’t know if Leigh will play at Kilmarnock. He has had a busy week and he showed tremendous workrate in the game on Sunday, so we will see. I haven’t totally made my mind up on it.
“He wants to play in every game. As a manager, you’ve just got to make sure you prepare the team and they are all ready to play. If you feel the team needs changing, then you’ve got to do that. It’s the manager’s job to recognise things like that.
“Over the last couple of games, we have mixed it up a bit, with some changes enforced and some of them not. We will do the same again against Kilmarnock. There won’t be drastic changes but we will freshen it up.”
Fenlon says that whatever call he makes on Griffiths will not be influenced by an attempt to avoid the striker sustaining an injury which would rule him out of the cup final.
“That could happen in training, it could happen getting out of the car or getting out of bed,” added Fenlon. “That’s just life, isn’t it? You can’t legislate for things like that, so I firmly believe you just have to handle the cards you are dealt as they come along.”
Just as the future of Griffiths beyond the end of this season remains uncertain as he waits to learn if Wolves will take up the one-year option on his contract, so Hibs are still waiting on clarity on midfielder Jorge Claros.
The Honduran is on loan from Motagua and his club have indicated in their local media that they want to take the 27-year-old back this summer. But that is news to Fenlon who is still keen to try and secure Claros on a longer-term basis.
“We’ve been trying to talk to them [Motagua] to see where it’s at,” said Fenlon. “But we haven’t got anywhere with it so far. I’ll bet they would like to have him back but we would love to keep him. Jorge is aware of where we are with it and I think he would love to stay.
“At the moment, it looks like the cup final might be his last game for us. He’s got another season on his contract with Motagua and we need to make contact and see where the land lies. Then we’ve got to see if we can do some sort of deal.”
Fenlon’s keenness to hold on to Claros is an indication of how well the player has responded to the humiliation of being substituted before half-time in last season’s 5-1 Scottish Cup final mauling against Hearts.
“I could have put all the names in a hat that day and taken any one of them off,” said Fenlon.
“That wasn’t a reflection on Jorge, it was probably me who picked the wrong team shape which didn’t suit him.
“He’s come back and done really well for us this season. He has shown great character. He has got better and better as this season has gone on. He doesn’t get much of the credit, but when he hasn’t been in the team we have missed him. He’s very level-headed, calm on the ball and reads things really well for us.”
Hibs captain James McPake and fellow defender Tim Clancy will both be sidelined by injury again tonight. Clancy’s groin problem looks likely to rule him out of contention for the Scottish Cup final. In the circumstances, Fenlon is gratified by the claims being staked by others for a place in his Hampden line-up.
“They have given me more of a headache than I really wanted or expected,” added Fenlon. “But boys like Ross Caldwell and Jordan Forster have done tremendously well. I’ve told them that if they get in the team they should make sure it’s very difficult to leave them out. Momentum is important for us now. We got a lift by winning the derby and if we can go into the final having won at Kilmarnock and then beaten Dundee at home, it will be great momentum.”
Tonight’s match is being replayed after the original fixture was abandoned ten days ago after a Kilmarnock supporter collapsed and later died.
“I don’t think I’ve even been involved in a game that was abandoned before,” reflected Fenlon. “It just puts into perspective what the game is.
“If someone goes out to watch a football match and doesn’t come home, that’s horrible and very, very sad.”