THERE is a fine line to be drawn between empathy and sympathy among football managers and it is one that Pat Fenlon is determined not to cross this weekend.
The Hibernian manager is looking to extend a four-match unbeaten run which has eased the early season scrutiny he found himself under after overseeing a record 9-0 aggregate European loss to Malmo and suffering a derby defeat to a youthful Hearts side.
Providing the opposition for Hibs at Easter Road tomorrow are a toiling St Mirren outfit who have taken just one point from their first five Premiership fixtures and who saw their hold on the League Cup ended at the first hurdle when they lost to Queen of the South.
In the business of speculation over a manager’s future, the focus in Scotland has shifted quickly from Fenlon and is now firmly on St Mirren boss Danny Lennon.
Fenlon believes talk of Lennon losing his job is “crazy” and is backing him to turn the Paisley club’s fortunes around. As much as he feels for his colleague, however, the Irishman wants to ensure any St Mirren revival is delayed for at least another week.
“I’m hoping St Mirren go on a decent run because Danny is one of the good guys around the game here,” said Fenlon. “I’m just hoping that run doesn’t start this weekend.
“St Mirren have some good players. I looked at their team from last week and I see the names of some good players there. You are always wary about facing a team that is on a poor run.
“You empathise with all managers, it’s a difficult job. Some people think it’s a handy job and an easy job but it’s a very difficult job. We’re only a few games into the season and people are speaking about Danny the same way they spoke about me a few weeks ago.
“But that’s the way football is now and you have to be big enough to try to take that, whether you use that as a motivational tool or you blank it or whatever. It’s just part and parcel of the game. Once you step into that job of being a manager, it’s coming for you no matter who you are.
“It’s amazing that Danny is facing this kind of speculation just a few months after winning a trophy. It shows you what the game is. You think back to the League Cup final at Hampden, a fantastic St Mirren support there and great celebrations. Then, a few months later, people are talking about him losing his job which is crazy. We’re five or six games into the season and it’s ludicrous to be honest.”
With Hibs having an opportunity to push themselves firmly into the top six with a victory tomorrow, Fenlon looks to have successfully ridden the storm which enveloped his team’s wretched start to the season. He insists keeping faith with your principles is the key to overcoming the kind of crisis which now faces Lennon.
“You have to believe in what you’re doing as a manager,” added Fenlon. “Once you start to have any doubts, then it becomes a problem for you. You have to have a belief that what you’re doing is right and then you keep working on it.
“You have a belief in what you want to do and you have to stick to that. If you start chopping and changing things for the sake of it, it can cause more problems.
“You change little things along the way but you have to have a basic belief in what you’re doing. It’s worked for Danny in the past, he’s won a major trophy and has a decent record so far as St Mirren manager.
“You can’t look too much further down the road as a manager, you have to make sure the concentration is right and look at the next couple of fixtures. We all say it’s back to basics when you hit a rough patch. It is a tough part of management but it comes to us all at some stage and you have to be big and bold to take it and move on.
“I’m probably not close enough to any of the managers here to pick up the phone and speak to them about it but I probably would do it at home with managers I know well.
“From going in after games and speaking to managers, Danny is fairly honest in his assessment of games, he seems to be a good guy. I don’t know him that well but, when we speak about the games, he’s clued in and he’s honest. That’s key when you are a manager, you have to be honest whether you have done well or not.
“I do feel this is the best squad of players I’ve had since I came to Hibs. There are a lot of good characters in that dressing room and we now have good competition for every position.
“The season didn’t start well for us but we just continued to work tremendously hard to get it right. We’re not saying we’re brilliant or anything like that yet, but we’re getting better.”
Lennon, for his part, is taking heart from Hibs’ reversal in fortunes and says Fenlon is a prime example of how quickly fortunes can change in football. The St Mirren manager also reiterated his belief that he is the right man to take the Paisley club forward.
“There was a lot of attention on Pat Fenlon’s credentials at the beginning of the season,” explained Lennon. “There was a lot written about how it was the worst two results in their history, the 5-1 in the cup final and the 9-0 on aggregate.
“But Pat’s been strong, he’s put one or two results together for them to climb up the table and that’s great management.
“I certainly believe that I’m the man to take this club forward or I wouldn’t be here. If the time comes that they decide to move Danny Lennon on, then what I would ask is, what do they expect from their new manager?”