IF TREATING triumph and disaster just the same is considered the sign of a real man, then Hibs manager Pat Fenlon has received all the verification he needs that he has brought the right people to the club.
While the celebrations were full on at the final whistle on Sunday after the 1-0 Scottish Cup derby win over Hearts and the training this week has been imbued with the feelgood factor such results generate, Fenlon says the focus is fully on this weekend’s return to league business and tomorrow’s match in Inverness.
“I think the players who have come in were aware of the size of the club and the potential here from people telling them, but Sunday was perhaps the first time some of them had witnessed an illustration of that I suppose – that is a major plus,” said Fenlon. “The players know if they perform to that level and gain great results those scenes are just around the corner.
“They are a good group here. We have had some bad results and they have bounced back really well. Likewise, when we have good results they have handled that the right way. They have taken a fair bit of enjoyment from the Hearts win, in relation to the supporters more than anything else but they have trained really well and we are pleased with them.
“It’s about building on a couple of decent results, I suppose. Backing that up with another win is certainly important. There’s a bit of momentum and it is about keeping that going.” While the fans enjoyed the cup victory, such tense games are ones to be endured by managers. During the game they are too embroiled in the tension to savour the occasion and while the enjoyment was intense come the final whistle, with another game peeking over the horizon, it is also fleeting.
“I watched the game back and didn’t enjoy it much – it wasn’t a great game if I’m honest!” added Fenlon. “I enjoyed the last couple of minutes – and it’s more fun when you know the result, I suppose. But it is difficult as a manager to enjoy football matches. At the end of the season you can look back, analyse and see where things went. But after Sunday you are just thinking: let’s focus on Inverness, watch DVDs and get focused on the next match.”
While Hibs have surpassed most pre-season predictions with their ascent of the league table, tucked in nicely behind leaders Celtic and waiting to pounce on any slip-ups by the Glasgow side, they are not the only surprise packages.
As the season edges closer to the midway stage, Terry Butcher has put together a side capable of the consistency needed to find themselves in third place, just two points behind Hibs and aware that a win tomorrow would elevate them even further in the SPL standings. The teams drew when they met in September and since then Hibs have won five and lost four of their nine league fixtures, Inverness have won six, drawn two and lost just once.
Fenlon is well aware of the threat Inverness Caledonian Thistle pose. “They have been different class. Look at the two away results – going to Aberdeen and Celtic and picking up six points, it is some achievement,” he said. “They are a good side with some excellent players. They have a settled side and I think we have said over the last 12 months if you can keep that continuity and similar players it does help. Their recruitment has been excellent and there are one or two there – the likes of Aaron [Doran] – that I know well. He has been injury free and has had a very good season.
“It is about bringing in players and it is clear that Terry [Butcher] and Maurice [Malpas] have a great number of contacts within the game and they have done their homework regarding the type of player they want to bring into the club. They have always been an honest, hard-working bunch, but I think they have more quality than ever before.”
But, like Hibs, they are not yet the finished product. With 31 goals scored, the Highland side have netted more than any other side on league duty this term but they have also leaked a few at home. Conceding 14 in eight games on their own turf, the same number Hibs have shipped in their eight away games this term, would suggest that it could be an open match this weekend and fortune could favour the brave. “I guess that means it will be nil-all! “ joked the Hibs boss. “We will approach it like every other game. Look to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses – then deal with the strengths and exploit the weaknesses.”
With the potential to be a high-scoring affair, Fenlon could have done with having greater strength in depth when it comes to defensive selections, but he will again be without James McPake and Tim Clancy, and he certainly could do without top goalscorer Leigh Griffiths being injured. Having hobbled off against Hearts, the striker is a doubt for the trip to Inverness. “He is still a bit sore and has not done very much this week at all,” said Fenlon. “If there is no fairly drastic improvement then he is very doubtful. But we have a few options – Shefki [Kuqi], Danny [Handling] and young Ross [Caldwell] can all come in. They all have different attributes but we believe they can be effective.”
With so many games to contemplate over the festive season, Fenlon knows they can’t afford to risk rushing players back and seeing them sidelined again. But he also knows that given the way the stand-ins have been performing thus far, he doesn’t really have to.