HIBERNIAN yesterday reacted strongly to a newspaper column written by Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels in which he repeated a contention that Paul Cairney had played for a penalty in the meeting between the two sides last Saturday.
A spokesman for the Easter Road club said everyone connected to Kilmarnock should be “embarrassed” by Shiels’ conduct.
The Easter Road club issued a statement that deplored the decision by Shiels to re-open a debate which spilled over in the aftermath of last weekend’s game. Following the award of the penalty, which Leigh Griffiths converted on the way to a 2-1 win for Hibs, Shiels claimed there had been no contact between Cairney and Kilmarnock defender Ryan O’Leary. Kilmarnock goalkeeper Kyle Letheren also made some comments to the effect that Cairney should be suspended for simulation.
Hibs have been dismayed by Shiels’ decision to write about the incident again yesterday. “I maintain it wasn’t a penalty and the fact Paul winked at our ’keeper tells its own story,” the Kilmarnock manager stressed. The capital club hit back yesterday afternoon with a statement posted on their official website: “It is disappointing to note the comments attributed to the Kilmarnock manager and goalkeeper. It is particularly disappointing that Mr Shiels chooses to use his national newspaper column to further imply cheating by a Hibernian player when the video and photographic evidence is absolutely clear and demonstrates that the referee made the correct decision.
“The incident has been fully exposed by the television coverage. Everyone connected with Kilmarnock FC should be embarrassed that their manager continues to draw attention to the fundamental flaws in his observation of what happened.”
Hibs manager Pat Fenlon initially tried to distance himself from the row yesterday and he admitted he had no input into the statement’s contents. However, he also revealed that Letheren had since apologised to Cairney for his own actions after the award of the penalty. “He’s a big man for doing that, in fairness to him,” said Fenlon. “I appreciate that and he takes a bit of credit for that.”
But Fenlon made no such concession for Shiels, whom he accused of digging himself into a bigger hole. “I don’t have time and I don’t have any interest in talking about other teams or players,” he said. “I’ve got a big job on here, so I find it amazing that managers have time to talk about other things that happen at other clubs.”
Shiels fell out with then Hearts manager Paulo Sergio last season. He expressed the opinion that Sergio should have stood up to Vladimir Romanov after the majority shareholder ordered his manager not to play ’keeper Marian Kello, who had refused to extend his contract. Sergio in turn branded Shiels a “clown” and then refused to shake his hand after a game shortly afterwards.
Fenlon resisted using quite such colourful language yesterday but he was clearly riled by Shiels’ continued criticisms about one of his players. “It’s called digging a bigger hole,” he said. “Get over it and get on with it, that’s the way I am looking at it. If you want to keep digging then off you go.”
“I haven’t put out any statement, the statement hasn’t come from me,” added Fenlon. “The statement from the club is on behalf of the club. The club is within its rights to defend the players at the football club, it’s as simple as that. I have my opinion on it. It’s something where they [Kilmarnock] are trying to turn the tables on us, [and are implying] that it’s something to do with us. But it has got absolutely nothing to do with us.
“Like I said, if you want to dig a big hole and keep digging into it, you’ll end up with it above your head, so keep going. He [Shiels] is a dream for you boys [reporters]. Unfortunately, I am probably the opposite to him.”
Fenlon regretted Shiels having becoming the story in a week when Hibs sit second place in the Scottish Premier League following the victory over Kilmarnock. They could hit the summit tomorrow if they defeat Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road. Motherwell, the current leaders, play Aberdeen on Sunday.
Fenlon admitted it would be “fantastic” if his side could reach the top of the league so soon after the “nightmare” experience of losing 5-1 to Hearts in the Scottish Cup final. “It would be great for the players,” he said. “They have worked hard to get themselves into the position they are in.”
He put the change in fortunes down to one reason. “Players,” he said. “No doubt about it.” Hibs are a much-changed side since May, when a team including six on-loan players failed so miserably to rise to the occasion at Hampden. “We have a great bunch of honest players with ability,” said Fenlon. “That is half the battle.”
Griffiths, who has scored five league goals already this season, is a doubt for tomorrow’s visit of Inverness having “rocked” his ankle. Striker Shefki Kuqi, however, is in line to feature after missing the win over Kilmarnock.