IVAN Sproule admits he can have no complaints at his current exclusion from Hibs’ starting eleven, as he believes each current bearer of the shirts have already made a case for Player of the Year status at the high-flying Easter Road club.
The Northern Irish winger has been largely restricted to a spectating role this season as Pat Fenlon’s transformed side have pieced together an impressive run of form which sees them go into this weekend as SPL leaders.
It is a position they will seek to hold on to by beating bottom of the table Dundee at Dens Park this afternoon, when Sproule once more anticipates being among the substitutes.
He has not started a match for Hibs since the opening day of the campaign, when they lost 3-0 to Dundee United at Tannadice, but insists he has no axe to grind with Fenlon.
“It has been difficult for me,” said Sproule, “but at the same time, I haven’t banged on the gaffer’s door asking why I’m not playing. I can see the likes of Paul Cairney, who has been a revelation, and David Wotherspoon who is playing the best football of his career.
“The lads are hungry and putting in great performances every week. If you asked me now who our leading candidate is for Player of the Year, then I feel the gaffer has 11 of them.
“I am playing my part and if I’m required to come on and do my bit, then so be it, but I’m fighting to get my place back in the team. I’m not happy to be a bit-part player, the gaffer knows that. I’ve had a couple of conversations with him but I’m not going to demand to know why I’m not in the team because there is a simple answer to that – we are top of the league.”
Now in his second spell at Hibs, 31-year-old Sproule is well placed to judge the merits of the current side compared with previous vintages. He is impressed with what he has seen so far this season.
“We have played some really, really good stuff and I’ve sat on the bench and watched a lot of it,” he added. “We are sitting top of the league but we’ve achieved nothing yet.
“The league table is so tight, you’re only two or three results away from slipping back the way again. I do think this is a very good Hibs side but the gaffer will tell you that we will only know how good a side it is at the end of the season.
“A lot of credit has to go to the gaffer for the change in Hibs this season compared to last year. He has done so much homework and research, bringing in players who have made a huge difference. It wasn’t an overnight effort. His toughest job was laying the groundwork last season, but I think the fans, chairman and board are seeing how well he has done in turning things around.
“Last season was the worst of my career. I came back to the club and I suppose the expectation was high but it just never happened. Somehow we managed to get to the Scottish Cup final and we thought we might right all of those wrongs, but we end up getting humped by Hearts and it was a disastrous end to a disaster of a season.
“These experiences in life help you. You are going to get knocks and bumps along the way and that was a big bashing we took. I am one of the few that are left from that and you harbour that pain and use it to drive you on, but I am certainly glad I am not in the same predicament again, fighting to pick up points to survive.
“Working with the gaffer week-in, week-out, I knew the work that was going on to turn things around. People don’t see the work that goes on behind the scenes. I knew with the gaffer that the one thing he demands is an honesty, and he clearly has a knack of turning out really good sides. He has shown that in the past. I knew he would turn it around. I am not going to lie and say I expected to be top of the league in November, but I did expect us to get better than last year.”
Dundee manager Barry Smith, meanwhile, has called for his side to reproduce their Hearts performance when Hibs head to Dens.
The Dark Blues’ last home fixture saw them finally pick up their first win of the season at Dens Park thanks to Matt Lockwood’s free-kick, the only goal of the game against Hearts. Now they have the chance to make it back-to-back wins on home soil against Edinburgh teams, with Smith urging them to try and take inspiration from their recent encounter with the Tynecastle men.
He said: “We want to try and live up to what we did against Hearts. That was a really good performance as well as a result. It gave everyone a big boost as we got what we deserved after a run of frustrating results.
“Hibs are on a good run and all credit to them for doing so, but we won’t change anything and we’ll attempt to get the three points. The lads are on a decent run of form with four points from our last two matches so that is something we want to continue.”