Pat Fenlon convinced Easter Road is no longer an easy awayday for rivals
IT IS a measure of Hibernian’s progress in recent months that, if they beat Dundee tomorrow, they will already have more home wins in the league this season than they managed in the whole of the last campaign.
Two was the total last time, a number they have already equalled with victories over St Johnstone and Kilmarnock.
That statistic may well indicate that Hibs are improving from a very low base but manager Pat Fenlon is grateful for the change nonetheless. One of his specific aims while renovating his squad over the summer was to ensure that teams coming to Easter Road would not look forward to the experience and, so far, he is convinced that his players are meeting that target.
“We spoke about it at the end of the season,” Fenlon said yesterday. “We said we need to make sure this is not a nice place to come.
“It has been too easy for teams in the recent past. Previous to that it was a hard place for teams to come, and we have got to get back to that.
“We’re slowly getting there. I think the supporters are realising that. The atmosphere at the games this season has been immensely different from last year. It is all progress, and it can be slow – as a manager you want everything to happen quickly – but we are building all the blocks together.”
Hibs would have gone top of the league last week – another indicator of progress – had they won in Aberdeen. In the event, they were disappointed to lose 2-1, but Fenlon saw nothing in that match to suggest that his team had lost the cutting edge that had taken them so close to the summit. Indeed, having faced every other team in the division apart from Dundee, Motherwell and Ross County, he has seen nothing to be frightened of.
“I said to my players after the Aberdeen game that we’ve played almost every team in this division and there is nobody we should fear. We have got to realise that. They have gone toe to toe with most sides and haven’t had too many problems – it’s about believing that and going forward.
“I don’t think what got us towards the top of the league has been missing. I do think we need to have a bit more belief in our ourselves. We’ve got good players, we’re a good side, and the players need to have belief in themselves and take it into every game. We’re at this end of the table for a reason. We have played well this season and we should take that into the games.
“Where we are in the league is where we should be and where we deserve to be. We should kick on from that. The players hear people talking about us going top of the league, they’ve got to embrace that and enjoy that. Why not? It’s a fantastic feeling if you can get there. People might say we shouldn’t be there or we’re not good enough to be there but we need to embrace that and make it a target for our players to make sure they get as high up this league as they possibly can.”
If Fenlon needed any further proof that his team have nothing to fear, it came in the results from other grounds that he heard on the way back from that lunchtime kick-off in Pittodrie. Dundee United conceded four goals away, Hearts lost three at home and St Mirren beat Ross County by the odd goal in nine. Those scores proved that, while Hibs are still very much a work in progress, other teams do not have all the answers either, especially in defence.
“Coming back on the bus from Aberdeen, I was disappointed we conceded two goals – then I looked at the league table and it was the same across the board. Maybe we all need to work on our defence rather than attackers, although I’m sure the punters disagree.
“There is not a lot between all the sides outwith Celtic. Dundee United and Motherwell have established squads and other sides have chopped and changed but that parity makes it all the more vital we pick up the points at Easter Road.”
Hibs picked up no points in their first home game, a 3-0 loss to United for which Fenlon felt he was primarily to blame. “It was more of a blip than anything, and probably more to do with me than the players.
“I felt when we were away in pre-season we looked all right in a lot of the games but we gave up sloppy goals at Dundee United and just did not start the game. We had the wrong shape.
“But they learned from that quickly and turned it around quickly, and I think that shows the type of character we have in the squad now. In hindsight, it might have been a wake-up call we needed, and a reminder that maybe we were not as good as we thought we were but you can’t get away from what has got us where we are now. That is hard work, organisation, and determination.”
With a fully-fit squad from which to select, Fenlon should get that third home win tomorrow but he is not writing off Dundee despite their position at the bottom of the table. He said: “We know teams that are at the bottom of the table want to fight and scrap for everything, even this early in the season.”
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