PAT FENLON has warned his players to forget all talk of the Scottish Cup final, telling them they have five matches to earn themselves the right to have the chance to make history.
The Easter Road boss was left drained and exhausted after watching his side storm back from being 3-0 down against First Division Falkirk within half an hour to claim their place in the final for a second successive season with a sensational extra-time strike from top scorer Leigh Griffiths.
Fenlon and his players already know they’ll be playing in the Europa League next season bar a catastrophic collapse by champions-elect Celtic, who booked their place in the final in another astonishing semi-final clash with Dundee United which, like the game the day before, ended in a 4-3 win in extra time.
But while all eyes are on smashing Hibs’ 111-year Cup hoodoo and claiming a place in the Capital club’s folklore, Fenlon insisted few of his players are certain of their places against Celtic following a horrendous first-half performance against Falkirk with only the boot of goalkeeper Ben Williams preventing them going four down before half-time.
Although Fenlon praised the “tremendous character” shown by his players – goals from Alex Harris, Griffiths, Eoin Doyle and Grifiths again outdoing those early strikes from Craig Sibbald, Jay Fulton and Blair Alston – the Irishman was furious at his side’s first-half display, leading him, in the words of Harris, to “go radge” during the interval. Happy as he might have been at the response he got, Fenlon revealed he was still smarting at the way in which Hibs had surrendered a
top-six finish in recent weeks and was now looking to his players to up their game between now and the final at the end of next month.
He said: “I’m not happy at the way we finished but now we have to kick on and make sure we get ourselves up to the right end of the bottom six, that’s imperative.
“It’s up to the players. If they want to be involved in the cup final then they have to go and play well. We’ve been disappointed with our form for the last couple of months, we have spoken about that and now we have five big league games to try to put that right.”
And Fenlon revealed teenagers Harris, and Danny Handling, who replaced Scott Robertson after only 32 minutes, will be very much in his thoughts over the coming weeks as will other youngsters at Easter Road.
Admitting he had got his initial team selection wrong, Fenlon said: “The two boys we brought in were exceptional, Alex, for an 18-year-old kid, was different class. He is a good player but he can be better than he was on Saturday, he’s going to be a top player for us.
“Danny as well, he’s a very clever footballer who gets into difficult areas for people to pick him up. The two of them were great and there are a few more knocking on the door and maybe it is time to give them their opportunity. We’ve got good young players and maybe in the next few weeks I have to look at that.
“Maybe I should have introduced them earlier because we brought one or two others back against Falkirk and they didn’t do enough.”