PAT FENLON knows Leigh Griffiths will be less than happy if he finds himself sitting on the sidelines tonight. However, the Hibs manager admitted that’s exactly what he’s thinking about doing for the SPL clash with Kilmarnock.
With the Scottish Cup final just over a week away and two league games still to fit in before then, Fenlon acknowledges the importance of avoiding injuries to key players.
Griffiths, having already bagged 28 goals in this campaign and been named Clydesdale Bank Player of the Year, certainly falls into that bracket.
Fenlon looks likely to shuffle his pack for the rearranged fixture with Kenny Shiels’ men at Rugby Park, giving regular players the chance to rest and those on the fringes a late chance to stake a claim for a spot in the Cup final squad.
However, Griffiths will be desperate to be involved tonight, and this weekend in the final clash of the league season against Dundee, as he is bidding to become the first Hibs player in 40 years to score 30 goals in a season.
Fenlon admits that he has a difficult decision to make ahead of kick-off tonight but says that there will be no sentiment in his team selection. He said: “I think over the last couple of games we have mixed things up a little bit, some forced, some not, and again we will freshen things up a little bit tonight. There won’t be drastic changes to the side but we will freshen things up here and there.
“We will see how he (Griffiths) is. He trained yesterday morning. He has had a busy week and put in a tremendous level of workrate against Hearts at the weekend so we will see.
“I haven’t totally made my mind up yet. He wants to play every game and he has got it into his head that he wants to beat the record so we have got to take that into account.
“But I have got to manage the team that I think will be the best for us over the course of the three games that we have left.
“As a manager you have just got to make sure that you have prepared the team and that they are fit and ready to play. If you feel it needs changing then you have got to do that.
“That’s what the manager’s job is – to recognise things like that.
“Sentiment won’t come into it. I will pick a team that I think can win us the game.”
The decision over whether or not to pick Griffiths is a real double-edged sword for Fenlon, who wants to ensure his star striker is fit to face Celtic a week on Sunday but who also wants to see his Hibs side earn seventh place in the SPL table. A victory tonight would give them a real chance of doing that.
Having seen Richard Brittain sustain a serious injury in Ross County’s game against Motherwell on Sunday, you would easily forgive Fenlon if he decided to wrap Griffiths completely in cotton wool and didn’t play him until the Hampden clash with Celtic on May 26.
However, philosophical Fenlon believes that you can’t allow yourself to be caught up in the negative thoughts and that what will be, will be.
“It could have happened this morning in training”, he said, “it could happen getting out of the car, it could happen getting out of bed. It’s just life, isn’t it? You just have to get on with it, you have to deal with things.
“Just like the game tonight, the situation that happened in the first game (which was abandoned after Kilmarnock supporter James Haswell collapsed and subsequently died).
“You just can’t legislate for things like that, so I firmly believe you just deal with the cards you’re dealt when they come along.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a game that’s been abandoned for any reason, to be honest. It just puts it into perspective what the game is. At the end of the day, if someone goes out to watch a football match and doesn’t come home then that’s horrible and very, very sad.
“Competition for Cup final places has probably given me more of a headache than I really wanted, but it’s great.
“If you look at the team at the weekend, there’s some boys that have come into it – the likes of Ross Caldwell and Jordon Forster – who have done tremendously well. Lewis has come in at left-back and done really well.
“I told them that after we qualified from the semi-final. It’s a 16-man squad for the final, so there’s going to be a fair few disappointed people. I told them ‘don’t be one of them. If you get into the team make sure it’s very difficult to be left out of it.’”
One man who will miss out tonight but is likely to be available for the Cup final is James McPake, who is suffering with a back problem.
Fenlon added: “It’s probably more in his glute area than his back. It’s just tightened up. He’s played a lot of games. Since he was out earlier on the season, he’s played most games and it’s just a little bit of wear and tear. He’s got a little spasm there in his lower back and going into his backside. So, again, we’ve taken him out to see if it settles.
“He’s good that way, he looks after himself and he’s got to maintain it. The game in midweek wouldn’t have been a help to him and we probably wouldn’t have played him.
“His recovery is important after games, it’s important he has a few days to get himself right and get him back into training.
“With James, once you get him fit pre-season, it’s about managing him, and himself managing his career through the season, to make sure he’s available to play.
“We’re hopeful he will settle down by the weekend.”