Pat Fenlon urges patience as Hibs visit Celtic

HIBERNIAN need to win at Celtic tomorrow to have any chance of getting into the top six of the SPL, but Pat Fenlon will not tell his team to throw caution to the wind as they go in search of the three points.

Even if they do win at Parkhead, Hibs will need Kilmarnock to lose at home to Dundee, and Aberdeen and Dundee United to draw at Tannadice, to make it into the upper half of the table. And, as if their task were not difficult enough, Hibs will be up against opponents who could finally claim the title if they win and Motherwell lose to St Mirren,

No wonder, then, that Fenlon will urge his team to be patient and disciplined. “We have to go and win the game, but we have to approach it in the right manner,” he said yesterday. “It’s a big day for them as well, so we’ve got to make sure we start the game properly: that’s the key.

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“We need to be clued in and give ourselves an opportunity to go and win the game. It doesn’t have to be won in the first minute, but we’ve got to make sure we keep it alive.

“On our last visit to Parkhead we played quite well. They’ve got some really good players and we need to match that in terms of aggression and the start I think they’ll bring to it.

“It’s going to be very difficult, but the last thing you want to do if everything does go your way is that you don’t give yourself an opportunity for it to work out. We know we’ll need a lot of luck, but strange things happen in football.

“It’s a bigger prize for us, and I don’t mean any disrespect when I say that. They’re going to win the title, it’s a matter of time, but from our point of view this is our last chance to try and get into that top six.”

One bookmaker is offering odds of 123/1 against Hibs making it into the top six – a price which, given only three things need to happen, may seem generous to some.

“At odds of 123/1 I might stick a few bob on it,” Fenlon joked. “I’ll collect a few quid from the staff and throw it on it. And I picked ten horses for a charity bet for the Grand National the other day, so hopefully one of them comes up.”

A few months ago, as they were briefly top of the table and then held on to second place for somewhat longer, Hibs seemed certain to have claimed a place in the upper half long before the split. As they are now ninth, it seems reasonable to infer that they have been in decline since at least the turn of the year.

But Fenlon, while accepting that his team’s form has not been great, argued that he never read too much into their former lofty position. “I said when we were top of the league on one occasion not to get carried away because we were only starting off and it was going okay. Over the last five or six weeks our form hasn’t been good enough: it’s as simple as that.

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“We haven’t done enough to win games and we’ve had a bit of luck going against us, but in general our form over the last six or seven weeks hasn’t been good enough. We seem to have been able to get results in the big cup games, but not as frequently in the league.

“I said I wanted to be in the top six. I feel that is where this club should be. But I said from the start that you need to earn the right to do that, so it would be a massive disappointment from my point of view if we don’t end up there.

“I can’t fault the players’ workrate and ethic and desire to do well. I just think over the last four or five weeks, maybe a bit longer, we have dropped off the pace.

“If we don’t make it, then from my point of view the season has been disappointing. If that happens then we need to finish at the top of that bottom half and, hopefully, get into a cup final.” With a cup semi-final against Falkirk coming up next Saturday, and with only six points separating them from city rivals Hearts, Hibs could still end this season the same as last one, when they lost the cup final and came second bottom of the SPL. Of course if they win the cup, their slide down the league will be forgotten by their supporters, but Fenlon said that even in those circumstances he would still find the league campaign a disappointment.

“My target was to get into the top six. If we don’t do it, then I will not be happy on a personal level,” he said.

“To give ourselves a chance going into the final game is good, but really we should have had the position secured.”

The manager added that he had been surprised when striker Eoin Doyle turned down the offer of a new deal at Easter Road to sign for Chesterfield. “We offered him a contract and he didn’t want to stay: that happens. His effort and attitude is first-class, so I have no worries about that.”

Centre-half Paul Hanlon is back in Fenlon’s squad for tomorrow’s game, having resumed training last week after injury.