PAT Fenlon cannot have fond memories of Friday nights at Fir Park. Almost a year ago, his first game as Hibernian manager was at Motherwell’s ground, and it lasted only until half-time, when a small fire forced the fixture to be abandoned with the visiting team a goal to the good.
Had the game gone on, it could have meant a winning start for Fenlon. Instead, he had to wait until the New Year as his team toiled to break free of the relegation zone.
Matters are different now for Hibs, of course, and much improved. A win tonight would take them back to second in the SPL and, even if they only stay there until tomorrow afternoon, it is an indication of how far they have moved on.
“It was a good night, but then it turned into a difficult night,” Fenlon recalled yesterday. “It’s something that doesn’t happen too often as a manager.
“I don’t look back and think ‘if we’d won that game we might have done better after’. I just tried to take the positives out of it.
“The fact we could go second with a win shows the progress, but it’s vital we don’t get carried away. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The place was in a bad condition when we came in – both on the pitch and off it – but we’ve changed a lot of that and we’re continuing to work to change that.
“I’ve said from the start we’re looking to slowly progress and we’re gradually doing that. It’s important we continue that process to move forward. The task was probably bigger than I first realised.”
Cautious by nature, Fenlon has never seemed in danger of being carried away by the improvements he has carried out at Hibs but, just in case he needed a reminder of how much work remains to be done, he got it last week when some by-now uncharacteristic defensive mistakes allowed Ross County to win 3-2.
“You have good days and then you have setbacks which can be a reality check for managers and players which remind you that you’re not as good as you think you are,” he added.
“If you get to the point where you think you don’t need to do too much more then you’re going to be in trouble. It’s going to take an awful lot more work to get us where we want to be.”
When that abandoned match was eventually replayed, Motherwell won 4-3. It was the latest instalment in an entertaining series between the two clubs which also included a scarcely credible 6-6 draw – a match which Fenlon can remember watching as a neutral. He would happily settle for less enthralling entertainment this evening if it means Hibs going home with the three points.
“If it’s 6-6 or 4-3 then it will be difficult for both managers – unless you come out on top in the 4-3 one. We were on the wrong side of that result at Fir Park last season, which was a fantastic game, as was the 6-6 which I watched on TV. When you’re watching a game like that as a neutral you think it’s fantastic, but, if you try to put yourself in the shoes of a manager, then you wonder how you’d deal with a game like that.
“If we can go there and pick something up then I’ll be delighted. I want to try and eradicate the goals we conceded last week and make it more difficult for teams to score against us.
“Last year our record away from home was half decent and then our home form wasn’t as good but it’s reversed a little bit [this season]. It’s what we wanted to do in relation to our home form, but maybe we need to be more solid on the road.”