PAT Fenlon vowed to carry on as Hibs manager last night after a dispiriting 1-0 defeat to Hearts ended the Easter Road side’s hopes of lifting the League Cup.
The result led to a protest outside the main stand by a group of about 200 Hibs fans, who called for the manager to be sacked.
However, Fenlon said his team deserved credit for playing “tremendously well”. He insisted that he felt under no pressure as he approaches the second anniversary of his reign.
The chants from supporters outside could be heard as Fenlon sought to defend his side’s performance after another derby defeat. Ryan Stevenson’s 20-yard strike in the first half separated the teams and means Hearts have secured a lucrative place in the semi-finals of the League Cup at Hibs’ expense.
The hosts were heavy favourites to progress against their inexperienced rivals.
Hibs have won only two out of ten matches against Hearts since Fenlon arrived as manager in 2011. The 5-1 Scottish Cup final defeat in 2012 outstrips all others in terms of ignominy. However, last night’s 1-0 defeat to their bottom-of-the-league rivals was deemed by many Hibs supporters to be the last straw.
Jamie MacDonald kept Hearts in the game with a string of outstanding saves but, after the visitors took a 33rd-minute lead, the belief drained from the home team. “We want Fenlon out!” a group of fans chanted long after the final whistle as their dissatisfaction with the manager was made clear.
Earlier they could be heard in the background as Fenlon faced reporters in a press conference which saw the under-pressure manager refuse to answer questions about his future. It is only four months since a 7-0 home defeat to Malmo prompted the same questions.
“I’m not going to answer that,” he said, when asked whether this latest defeat to Hearts was a resigning issue. “We didn’t win the game tonight, that’s all. I thought we played really well. We were tremendous in the first half, created four or five great chances.
“Their goalkeeper has made some great saves and they’ve scored a great goal. We’re disappointed we haven’t won but I can’t fault the players for effort. If you create four or five chances in a derby game, you expect to win it.
“I won’t say anything to them at the moment because I’m in here,” he said, when asked if he had anything to say to the
dismayed fans. “I’ve told the supporters what I feel. There’s no problem with the supporters, they’re right do that, right to feel angry because we’ve lost. I’ve no problem with that at all.
“I don’t feel under pressure. I said before, when I took the job, that if I could take the team forward, I would do my best. If not, I’ve no problem with someone else doing that. So it’s not about pressure.
“You have to give my players credit tonight. They played tremendously well and I hope you give them some credit. I thought in the first half that our performance was different class. We’re just so disappointed that we didn’t get anything out of the game.
“You understand that [the fans protesting]. That’s part of football. They are disappointed at losing to their big rivals and going out of the cup. You expect that. Of course I sympathise with them. They’ve been tremendous with me, they’ve been different class. I understand the frustrations.
Fenlon would not comment when asked whether – as has been speculated – there is a clause in his contract to allow Hibs and the manager to part ways next month, two years since he was appointed. “I’m not going to talk about anything in my contract. That’s the club’s and my business, not for anyone else to discuss.”
Fenlon denied that his team had a problem when playing against Hearts after also losing to their rivals in the first derby of the season in August. Hearts have only won three times over 90 minutes this season – twice against Hibs. “The only problem is that we didn’t take our chances,” said Fenlon.
Ryan Stevenson, Hearts’ match winner, was rated extremely doubtful before the match after injuring his knee against Kilmarnock at the weekend. However, he made a mockery of reports that he might be out for two months by returning four days later to score a brilliant winner.
He said: “With it being a derby, emotions were running high, and I felt I could play. I can imagine it will be sore again tomorrow. I was just delighted I turned and hit it and it went into top corner.”
Hearts manager Gary Locke switched Stevenson to centre forward after he had started the game in midfield. “We were not getting a hold of the ball at all, we felt Ryan’s physical power would cause Hibs a few problems,” said Locke.
“I think it is one of the best derby results ever considering the age of the team. It was a great performance apart from the first 15 minutes. We need to start taking that type of performance into the league. Hopefully we can turn our season around.
“They are young lads,” he added. “We were always going to take knocks this season. Hopefully, we can now go from strength to strength.”