Hard work behind the scenes key to Hibs’ turnaround, says Pat Fenlon

THESE are still early days, but there is little doubt that Hibernian have improved significantly compared to last season. Then they struggled against relegation, ensuring safety only in the last couple of weeks.

Now, they have lost only once in the SPL, and have another chance to go top of the table when they travel to Pittodrie tomorrow.

The speed of the turnaround may have come as a shock to some, but not to Hibs manager Pat Fenlon. “I’m probably not surprised how well the team have gelled, having watched them day in, day out from pre-season,” he said yesterday.

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“There have been a lot of positives and a lot of stuff we need to work on, which we are doing. We did our homework on the players before we brought them in so I knew what type we were getting in and the quality.”

The improvement has been seen throughout the team, from the greater reliability of Ben Williams in goal to the enhanced solidity of a midfield which was pitifully fragile for much of the last campaign. But for Fenlon, the fundamental improvement, the one without which the rest would not be possible, has taken place behind the scenes.

“Away from the games,” he replied when asked where the most evident progress had been. “The training, the atmosphere, the work rate, the commitment; all that sort of stuff we probably didn’t have over the last season.

“That’s there in abundance. A real honest bunch of players willing to work hard for each other, and as a manager that’s what you hope for. You give them the game plan and you try and carry it out. If you don’t have the other bits and bobs then you don’t have anything, but we’ve got that in abundance.

“You have to work on it: the type of player you have, the type of player you bring in. You continually work on that. I felt when we came in here last year that was missing really badly. We tried to bring a few in to improve that, but I think the ones we’ve brought in this year have really helped.

“We don’t have as many players, which helps as well – you can spend a bit more time 
individually with players when you don’t have loads. We have a good blend of experience and younger ones as well.

“Over the course of pre-season and going into the games, you notice little things day in, day-out. The training level gets to a tempo where you’re not always continuously at it to get to that. When you’ve got the players willing to drive that, it’s a good sign as well.

“I think we’re improving all the time. You always look at things that you can maybe 
improve. We will continue to do that even though the transfer window is closed. I’m really happy with the bunch of players we’ve got at the moment, I don’t think there is many in there that we would swap around. It’s taken us time to get them together, but what we have at the moment is a really decent squad.”

Perhaps the best indication of the transformation at Easter Road is the frame of mind in which Fenlon’s squad will head for Aberdeen. On their last visit to Pittodrie back in the spring they were still in danger of being demoted, and although they won the game, it was a tense, highly pressurised encounter. Tomorrow, they should feel able to be far more self-assertive. “Last time we went up was a massive game for us,” Fenlon continued. “We would like to go up and perform to the level again, to the level we’ve been at since the start of the season.

“It was a massive game, 
because going there, people thought we might have fallen up there, but we didn’t, and showed a fair bit of character on the night.

“We played well at times under the cosh a bit, but to get out of it was fantastic.

“It’s just important we go and perform to where we’ve been over the last few weeks and make sure we get to that level again. If you get a consistent run of results and then drop points, it’s not the end of the world.

“Here last season, as soon as we had a negative result it was all doom and gloom. You’re 
improving as a team if that comes and goes and people get on with it. That’s what we’ve got to do: when we’re winning football matches and when we have a blip, we put it down to a blip.”

Leigh Griffiths is back in training after missing out last week because of injury, and new signings Tom Taiwo and Ryan 
McGivern should also be in the running for a starting place.