Fenlon wants to see Hibs thrive on pressure of relegation clash

PAT Fenlon has urged his players to have faith in their own ability and to show no fear when they visit Dunfermline in today’s relegation battle. The Hibs manager is still looking for his first win in the league, his first five games in charge having produced a draw and four defeats, and he is convinced that claiming that debut victory today would be a massive step towards beating the drop.

With almost half the season still to play, Fenlon knows that this afternoon’s result will not be decisive in itself. But he is convinced that last week’s Scottish Cup victory at Cowdenbeath has already given his players a lift, and he thinks another win in Fife could spark a run of form which can lead them to safety.

“It’s another game for us, and there’s a long way to go in the season,” Fenlon said. “I would love to win, as it would give us a bit of a gap between ourselves and Dunfermline and it would give us the confidence of back-to-back wins, which we haven’t had.

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“It’s a big game for both clubs, and I’m sure they are approaching it the same way. There’s a big prize at the end of it for the winners. Players should embrace games like this. It’s a big game – probably the biggest game of the weekend. After the game you can look back, if we win the game, on a massive three points for us that would give us a big lift.”

The impact that a win for the Edinburgh side would have is obvious. Dunfermline would then be four points adrift at the foot of the SPL, and even if they won their game in hand – at Motherwell on 24 January – would still be behind Hibs. A draw or a home win, on the other hand, would give Dunfermline the chance to open up a lead over Hibs before the end of the month, and Fenlon’s answer was therefore unsurprising when he was asked if he would settle for a draw today.

“No, we want to win the game,” he said. “We always go out to try and win the game and I’m sure Dunfermline will be saying the same thing. They are at home and will fancy their chances, but we’ll go there aiming for three points.

“We’ve been working hard on trying to get across to the players that we have to go and win matches. Picking up points is not enough for us: we need to go and win some games. If we can do that then the benefit is two-fold – we go up the table and the confidence of the players rises, and that helps massively.”

While Hibs have played poorly more or less all season and have yet to show the kind of improvement which a new management team often brings, the suspicion remains that they could be saved by Dunfermline even if they fail to hit some decent form. After taking eight points from their first four games, the Fife team have gleaned just six more from the 16 matches that have followed.

A small improvement, particularly in defence, could be enough to lift Hibs out of trouble. And a comparison of the two squads suggests that they are more likely to find that improvement than Dunfermline. For the moment, Fenlon’s team remain an accident waiting to happen. But at least, when that accident did happen at Central Park last week and they went a goal down in the first minute, they had enough composure to fight back and claim a 3-2 win. “People have been a little bit perkier [after the Cowdenbeath win], because it was a difficult game for us,” said Fenlon. “I think there were so many journalists there to see us lose. Everybody wrote us off going there – on the bus radio everyone was saying ‘This is the shock of the round’, and then there was a goal after 20 seconds. I think the players showed great character. You don’t turn it off. You hear it, you listen to it, and it should give you a bit of motivation.”

Fenlon has already shown he is made of sterner stuff than most of his players, but this is uncharted territory for him and first-team coach Liam O’Brien. “It’s something I haven’t been involved in before,” he said. “Every week throws up a different challenge and every training session is a different challenge. You just have to face that and work things out.

“If you have a philosophy on the game then you shouldn’t change things much. You can add things or tinker, but we have a set way of doing things and it has worked for us previously.”