PAT Fenlon last night revealed he had decided to resign as Hibernian manager even before Wednesday night’s League Cup defeat at home to Hearts, which turned a sizeable majority of the Easter Road club’s support against him.
The 44-year-old Irishman quit yesterday afternoon, bringing an end to a tenure of just under two years in which he led Hibs to two consecutive Scottish Cup finals but also suffered two of the worst defeats in the club’s 138-year history – the 5-1 humiliation against Hearts in the 2012 Hampden final and the crushing 7-0 home loss to Malmo in the Europa League at the start of this season.
Fenlon eased the pressure on his position somewhat with a run of results which took Hibs back into the top six of the Scottish Premiership but he says last Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by Aberdeen persuaded him it was time to move on.
“I asked to meet the chairman [Rod Petrie] on Tuesday and I think my mind was made up at that stage, to be honest,” said Fenlon. “Beating Hearts on Wednesday wouldn’t have changed my mind.
“I spoke to the chairman yesterday, we had a conversation and I made my mind up. It was then a case of how and when we do it. It was horrible, but that is football. It is horrible sometimes. I’ve been thinking about it since the Aberdeen defeat, then for the last 24 hours. I spoke to a few people that I am close to and I came to that decision.
“It was a very difficult decision. I’ve been here for a while and I love the place. But you have to be fair to everyone. It’s the right decision to make at the right time.”
The Hibs players left their East Mains training complex yesterday unaware of Fenlon’s decision, although he had already informed his assistant Jimmy Nicholl.
“It wasn’t easy to take training in those circumstances,” added Fenlon. “But I felt it was important the players concentrated fully on the job of preparing for Sunday’s game at Motherwell. I’ll speak to them on Saturday and say my farewells.
“There is a temptation to stay, but I believe this is the right time. It is the correct decision to step aside and let someone else have a go. The conversation between me and the chairman will stay between me and the chairman – that is fair. I don’t have one bad word to say about the club, it has been enjoyable. It’s been tough and we have taken flak – I won’t lie about that – but it has made me a stronger man and will hopefully further my career.
“I certainly think the team can go further. I obviously don’t think I am the man to take it forward but there is a hell of a lot more to come from these players. It was nothing to do with being under pressure. I just think it was the right thing to do. I think, looking at it, I asked myself how I could take the club forward. I tried to do it on the pitch, and I believe we have taken things forward. Now it is the right time to let someone else have a go because this is a good place with good football players.
“I read some of the reports after the Hearts game on Wednesday and I felt a lot of them were overly critical of the team. I thought we played well. People said we only played well for half an hour but is the first half an hour not as important as the last?
“It’s a game of football over 90 minutes and I think the performance at the start was probably as good as we’ve managed since I’ve been here. We were really good, passed the ball well and created some good chances. My only regret is we didn’t finish in style on Wednesday. It would have been a nice way to go out.”
Nicholl will take charge of the team at Fir Park while Hibs begin the search for Fenlon’s replacement. In a brief statement released by the club shortly before 4pm yesterday, chairman Petrie expressed his gratitude to Fenlon for his efforts.
“Pat arrived when we were at a very low point almost two years ago and he has worked tirelessly to bring about improvement since his first day,” said Petrie.
“He has taken us to two Scottish Cup finals in successive seasons and, in his first full season in charge, improved our league standing by 18 points and four places. He has assembled a squad of talented players but feels he should now hand over the reins. We wish Pat every success and thank him for all of his efforts.”
Kenny Shiels was last night installed as the 4/5 favourite with McBookie.com to be the next Hibernian manager. Shiels, the former Kilmarnock manager, is currently out of work having been relieved of his duties at Rugby Park in June 2013. Shiels won the League Cup in his first season in charge at Kilmarnock but was regularly hauled before the SFA for controversial comments.Shiels is followed in the McBookie.com betting by his former assistant, Jimmy Nicholl, who was Fenlon’s No 2 at Easter Road and now takes charge on a caretaker basis. Nicholl is available at odds of 4/1.Other names being touted include former Hibs manager Tony Mowbray and former captain Ian Murray, while punters have also shown interest in former Scotland manager Craig Levein.Paul Petrie, McBookie.com spokesman said: “Kenny Shiels was at the game on Wednesday so plenty people are suggesting he is a shoo in. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise, but there are a number of strong candidates and Rod Petrie often thinks outside the box.”
While the race to replace Fenlon appears wide open, William Hill also have Shiels as their favourite (1/2). Jimmy Calderwood (7/1), Terry Butcher (7/1), Paul Hartley (10/1), Alex McLeish (16/1) and Derek Adams (20/1) also feature on their list.