BOTTOM club Dunfermline may have pulled level on points with his side on Tuesday night, but Pat Fenlon is still relishing being manager of Hibernian.
The Irishman yesterday described the role as “better” rather than tougher than he imagined. Last Saturday’s win over Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup certainly brightened the outlook, as have a collection of new arrivals. They have been signed with a principal aim in mind – to keep Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League.
Their position now looks a little more precarious. Dunfermline’s 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock at East End Park meant they drew level with Hibs on the 18-point mark. Eight points separate both sides from Inverness Caledonian Thistle, in third bottom place. However, Fenlon stressed that he continues to look up the way, though he “would have preferred Dunfermline to lose on Tuesday night”.
It might have been worse. Had Dunfermline scored their first home league victory of the season, Hibs could have been detached at the bottom going into tomorrow’s home league match with Aberdeen. Perhaps this is why he chose not to attend East End Park on Tuesday. “It’s not something we can concern ourselves with,” he explained. “We have to focus on ourselves. As well as worrying about what’s behind us, we have to try and catch one or two ahead of us.”
Aberdeen, whose manager Craig Brown has won the Manager of the Month award for January, are probably too far ahead and safe from relegation after a good run of form. Fenlon believes they can act as an inspiration to his players. “Aberdeen are a good example of what can be done if you put a few results together,” he said.
The thought of what can be achieved at Hibs excites him. “It’s not a bigger job than I expected,” he said. “Hibs have been in this position for a while, so I knew when I came in how difficult it would be. But it’s a better job than I thought. This is a fantastic club and it’s something I can get my teeth into.
“When you come in and see the size of it, the support we carry and the potential to increase that, it gives you a real lift. If you can take it to that level, to where it should be, it would be more enjoyable. I want to make it into an even better job. That would mean bringing success to Hibs. The club is bigger than I thought it would be initially. There is huge potential here and we must tap into it.”
But the first task is to start winning league games, and he knows his collection of new arrivals will have to gel quickly. Five players made their home debuts last weekend, while Honduran midfielder Jorge Claros, signed last month, looks set to make his first appearance at Easter Road tomorrow. “Jorge trained yesterday so he’s available,” said Fenlon. “The temptation is to play him because he’s a quality player, but he’s had a fair bit of travelling to do.
“We’ll make a decision on him on Friday. Jorge can make an impact for us. He’s the type of player we need in the team at the moment. We need a bit of calmness, someone to put his foot on the ball and slow things down. That’s what he’ll bring to us.
“We’ve brought in a type of player who are different to what we had,” he added. “A couple of them have a fair bit of experience and leadership around the dressing-room. That’s something we had to address quickly and we think we’ve done that.”
James McPake, one of those signed to provide leadership, is suspended tomorrow after being sent off at Ibrox at the end of last month, as is his central defensive partner, Paul Hanlon. Matt Doherty looks set to move from full-back to centre-half, where he could partner David Stephens. Fenlon’s vision is being imposed on the team. As with predecessor Colin Calderwood, he has quickly accepted responsibility for what happens on the pitch, although he would prefer the opportunity to look at things again in the summer, with Hibs still an SPL club.
“It’s my team now, to a point,” Fenlon said. “When you come in during the season, a lot of players are already there and you can’t change it. But during the window we’ve changed things around, we’ve changed the training and we’re getting there. Eventually it will happen, but we have a bit to go yet.”