THE chairman may have offered him his backing but Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon does not expect speculation surrounding his future at the capital club to suddenly subside.
• Pat Fenlon says his job remains under threat despite backing from Hibs chairman Rod Petrie
• “We’re trying to move things forward,” Fenlon says as he admits he may be forced to leave if results do not improve
A man under pressure thanks to a poor start to the season, he says he is thick skinned enough to cope with that but he wants his players to prove they also have the mental fortitude to cope with the weight of match day expectations.
“I think we’ve got good players but they’ve got to go and show that now. Because when you come to a big club, as Hibs is, you’ve got to be prepared to handle the pressure of that. That’s something you’ve got to stand up and do, whether that’s as a player or a coach or a manager. We’ve got to make sure we get the best out of everybody and drive each other on but it’s about finding that balance and getting a bit of confidence and then I think they’ll kick on.”
The harsh reality is that, with a European humiliation behind them and three games of the league season gone with no win to shout about, the demand for players and management to deliver at Kilmarnock this weekend remains intense. The supporters have made their views perfectly clear, booing the manager and the players on match days and they had a further chance to vent their complaints at a meeting with chairman Rod Petrie on Wednesday evening.
In a statement issued by the club later that night, the club supremo admitted that the face to face with fans had been “challenging” but he added that the board was “keen to give the players and the manager every opportunity to deliver improved performances and through that, win matches”.
“It’s small margins,” insisted Fenlon yesterday. “Last Saturday we showed a little bit of fear, which we can’t do. If you look around some of the stadiums at the weekend and the crowds, we had 9,000 people here - you should embrace that. That should be something you want to play in front of, there should be no fear of that. If you get the opportunity to go and play you’ve got to grasp that. That’s the key to it, go and enjoy yourself while you’re here.”
There has been little for Hibs fans to smile about so far this term. Having been subjected to a 9-0 aggregate loss to Malmo in their Europa League qualifier, the early league results, including a defeat to weakened city rivals Hearts, have failed to placate them. It left many campaigning for the sacking of Fenlon and prompted this week’s clear the air confrontation with the club chairman.
But while the manager was given a vote of confidence by his employers, he insists he did not consider it necessary and acknowledges that only a turnaround in results will quell the conjecture.
“It will never end the speculation, because the media live on speculation, so you’re never going to end that. That’s just the way the game is and you just have to accept that.
“But that’s football and it’s the way the game is at the moment and you just have to be thick skinned enough and you have to admit to yourself, as well, that they are probably right at the moment. They are right, we haven’t won enough games and I’m the manager so I carry the can and I’ve no problem with that at all.
“I’ve said from the start, when I got the job, the chance to manage this club, I would give it everything to get it right and that’s still the same. The club have always backed me on that. You’ve seen with the players we’ve brought in this year that they’ve done that from day one, so I don’t have a problem with that. If it helps in relation to the supporters then great, but I also understand the frustration of the supporters.
“I understand everybody’s frustrations, I don’t have a problem with that, and I’ll put pressure on myself to rectify that, because I know people hurt when they lose football matches. But as long as I’ve been here I’ve had the backing of club, so I’ve no problem with that.
“I understand people getting frustrated and being annoyed at results. As a manager, you have to take that, because that’s the way it is. If you win four or five games on the spin then all of a sudden that changes, so we just have to make sure we do our work every week.”
Plotting a turnaround in fortunes will have to be done, initially, without Kevin Thomson, who lost his appeal against his red card and will now serve a two-match suspension. Fenlon says he still has options in the midfield area but with wingers Paul Cairney and Alex Harris still out and both Liam Craig and Scott Robertson struggling to shrug off a tight hamstring and groin respectively, in time for the weekend trip to Rugby Park, they are more limited than Fenlon would have liked.
Accepting that they will “just have to get on with it”, he says the attitude and tempo in training has been good. The conundrum he has is finding a way of getting the players to take that on to the pitch on match days. The last two weeks have been good, training’s been bright and bubbly and they’ve been the same this week.
“I’m more than happy with the squad I’ve got. I’ve said I would like to bring in a wide player if we can, but we’ve got some real good players at the moment, we just need to gel them together and get a little break and a little bit of confidence into them, to be honest.”
They showed the battling capabilities in the latter stages of their match with Dundee United last weekend, fighting for a share of the points despite going down to 10 men but in Kilmarnock they face something of an unknown quantity.
“We have had a decent record against hem since I’ve been here but it’s a different team. There have been a lot of changes and they have a new management team so we expect a different type of game.”
One they could win would come in handy right now and would undoubtedly count for more than a vote of confidence from the board as far as the fans are concerned.
“HIBERNIAN chairman Rod Petrie met with supporters [on Wednesday evening]. The meeting was arranged to allow supporters from throughout the Hibernian community to speak directly with the club about any issues.
“The meeting was challenging, but held in a spirit of respect and courtesy. Hibernian supporters are passionate about their team and their club. They want only the best for Hibernian. That passion is shared by the Board and everyone at the club.
“Supporters were understandably critical of performances and results, particularly against Malmo at home and at Tynecastle in the Edinburgh derby. Strong words were used, reflecting the passion of supporters and their deep disappointment.
“The second-leg tie against Malmo in the Europa League was a nightmare. The manager and players apologised for that after the match. Some supporters felt that was not enough and that more should have been said by the club.
“No-one took any pleasure from the match and everyone shared the embarrassment of our worst ever result in Europe. The chairman acknowledged the depth of feeling as something he shared. The factors faced by the club in the lead up to the tie were not offered as any excuse. The club could only apologise once more.
“The group agreed the manager has assembled a talented group of players this Season.
“However, the quality of performances in the new SPFL have been questioned by supporters, exacerbated by two 1-0 defeats. However, there was also recognition that the quality of the squad should be capable of better.
“The chairman said the Board and the club are keen to give the players and the manager every opportunity to deliver improved performances and through that, win matches.
“He told the meeting that we need to get better. We need to inspire supporters. We need to recapture the enthusiasm that brought 16,000 supporters to Easter Road Stadium for the match against Malmo despite being 2-0 down from the first leg.
“The players and the manager and the coaching staff need our support and encouragement to strive for that.”