SPL preview: Hibernian

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Manager Pat Fenlon is rebuilding his team from the back, with a top-six finish the aim, finds Moira Gordon.

HIBS may be considered a top-six club but after last season’s narrow escape from relegation, no-one at Easter Road is harbouring any illusions that they have some divine right to the upper echelon.

Those who contributed to past campaigns know how tough it is and there will certainly be no complacency among the new players who have signed up this summer as manager Pat Fenlon attempts to stop the rot.

“Every team in the world will have a bad spell and Hibs’ [poor spell] was last year and maybe the season before but before that they were a consistent side in the top six and that’s what I have come here to achieve and the manager is working on that,” says new goalkeeper Ben Williams who has joined from Colchester. The emphasis has been on adding experience and some steel, while the pre-season has been designed to hammer home a new approach that will hopefully make life in the SPL less nervy this term.

“It’s a young side but he is trying to make a strong backbone,” adds Williams. “When I first spoke to the manager, he was very frank and made the same assessment about the club as people I know in the game. He said that the infrastructure is all here, the training ground is brilliant, the stadium is brilliant, the fans are fantastic but they need the right team on the pitch and that’s what he is working to do, with the personnel and the style of play. It’s a style of play and I’ve bought into it and [so have] the other players.

“As soon as a manager says ‘look we want to be difficult to beat’, as a goalkeeper you are happy. It’s when they say ‘we want to just concentrate on getting more goals than the opposition’, that’s when you worry. We have players like James McPake and are going to try to be really strong at the back and build from that and then you can bring in one or two additions and young players who have come through the ranks and who can express themselves. It should make for good football.”

Aware that any turnaround is still in the initial stage, Williams has seen enough in training to convince him that the new season will serve up an improvement on its predecessors.

“As a player you want to be involved in that transitional period. Expectations are relatively low because of where we finished last season so if we can get into the top six then it will be deemed a success. But things don’t happen overnight. We are not going to suddenly springboard into second place and Champions League football, as much as that’s what we would want, in realistic terms if we finish in the top six then that has to be deemed a success.”

“Where other teams in Scotland have a bit of an advantage on us,” says Fenlon, “is that we are having to rebuild a whole team and, from a financial point of view it’s not the ideal time to do that. It will be interesting to see the gates and the reaction to the Rangers scenario, and whether supporters are going to come out and back their clubs on the basis that they all wanted to see what has happened happen.

“What excites me is the thought of turning the club around. At the end of the day we will be judged by results on the park but we also have to get the other side of things at the club right and it hasn’t been right, no matter what people say, and it has to change.”