WHATEVER Pat Fenlon had hoped or feared for his first match in charge of Hibernian, he cannot have expected what transpired.
With his new club a goal in front at the break following a typically clinical finish from striker Garry O’Connor, the Irishman had been heartened by the first half and was looking forward to the second.
Then the crowd were told that the start of the second half was delayed by five minutes, apparently to allow staff to deal with a small electrical fire on one of the stands.
At the same time, Fenlon and Motherwell manager Stuart McCall were being informed of the problem by referee Willie Collum, who said he would even allow for a half-hour interval while a fire crew dealt with the problem.
Minutes later, though, the police and firefighters ruled that the match should be abandoned.
A floodlight pylon that had been affected by the stand had been switched off, and although the initial plan was to switch it back on again, it was decided that such a move would be too risky. Understandably, Fenlon was disappointed by such a curtailed debut, although he fully understood why the decision had been taken.
Nonetheless, he had still seen some encouraging signs in the 45 minutes’ play.
Fenlon had said on Thursday that he would not try to change too much for his first game in charge, and he proved to be true to his word, making only two alterations. O’Connor was back up front after being ruled out of the defeat at St Johnstone by a throat virus, and Michael Hart was restored to right-back.
Of arguably greater significance was the new manager’s choice of substitutes and his omissions from the 18.
Victor Palsson, Martin Scott and Akpo Sodje were on the bench, all of them having been hailed as significant additions to his squad by former incumbent Colin Calderwood. Junior Agogo, the signing on whom Calderwood set greater store than any other, was left out altogether. Fenlon is a canny soul who will take his time to assess the resources at his disposal before insisting to his employers that he needs cash to spend on reinforcements.
But, while that suggests all of the players who appear out of favour at the moment will soon get their chance, it should be added that the Dubliner also has a strong work ethic.
Anyone who shows humility and hard graft will be shown due respect, but anyone who got away with some slacking under Calderwood can now expect less sympathetic treatment.
In that sense, Fenlon’s first official game in charge did not represent an entirely clean slate for the Hibs squad. Having wisely kept Billy Brown on as assistant manager, the new boss already has a good grasp of what went on under previous management – and a fair idea about how to cut it out.
Lack of confidence was a glaring problem in Hibs’ last few games, and it was noticeable from kick-off last night that they were significantly more determined and assertive.
They needed to be against a decent Motherwell side who, although missing Keith Lasley through injury, displayed a lot of composure and creativity in midfield.
It was largely thanks to those qualities that the home team had the better of the opening quarter of an hour, but then at the end of that spell they went behind to the first real attempt on goal from either side.
Ivan Sproule did the initial damage down the left, passing inside to Leigh Griffiths, who was lurking close to the penalty spot. Griffiths wriggled clear of a couple of challenges then shot low past Darren Randolph in the Motherwell goal, and was unlucky to see his effort rebound off the right post.
Fortunately for Hibernian, however, the ball went more or less straight to O’Connor, who again shot low, and this time found the net from about 15 yards.
Griffiths was soon in the thick of the action again, latching on to a high deflected ball to make a good connection with an overhead kick from just inside the box.
Before it had travelled any distance it cannoned off Stevie Hammell, and Griffiths’ appeal for hand-ball was at best half-hearted.
Motherwell gradually became more territorially dominant after that, and on the half-hour mark Griffiths was booked for fouling Steve Jennings after dropping back to help out his colleagues.
Tom Hateley shot directly at goal from the free-kick, but goalkeeper Graham Stack was able to parry the ball to safety.
Nicky Law was next to test the Hibs goalkeeper with a shot from outside the box, but Stack was again equal to the challenge, this time managing to hold on to the ball.
Motherwell remained on top until half-time, but were unable to put Stack under further threat.
Motherwell: Randolph, Hateley, Hutchinson, Craigan, Hammell, Humphrey, Jennings, Hughes, Law, Murphy, Higdon. Subs not used: Bradley, McHugh, Daley, Forbes, Page, Clancy, Carswell.
Hibernian: Stack, Hart, Stephens, O’Hanlon, Hanlon, Wotherspoon, Osbourne, Stevenson, Sproule, Griffiths, O’Connor. Subs not used: Brown, Galbraith, Scott, Palsson, Sodje, Towell, Caldwell.