Pat Fenl-in, Pat Fenl-out?Posted: October 31, 2013
When the former Bohemians and Shelbourne boss was appointed as Hibernian manager in November 2011 the club were in a desperate position nearing the half-way point of their season. He was initially left to work with a squad of players which had been assembled by previous manager, Kevin Calderwood, thus making a slow start, taking just one point from his opening five league games. The following January, Felon took the opportunity to revamp his struggling squad adding key players such as now captain, James McPake. Hibs reached the SFA Cup Final the following May but were trumped by rivals Hearts 5-1 in the final, the hurt of which still lingers today. Ultimately Fenlon managed to keep the Hibees in the SPL having found his squad floundering in second-last when he arrived and began to build for his first full campaign adding no less than 10 new players to his squad.
Hibs started the following campaign brightly and took everyone by surprise as they found themselves at the summit of the table for a brief period of time. This was a striking improvement which nobody could have anticipated, spearheaded by on-loan striker Leigh Griffiths, who transformed from a troublesome young man into goal-machine and Scottish international under Fenlon’s guidance. The Edinburgh outfit went on to reach a second successive SFA Cup Final, dumping rivals Hearts out on the road and met Celtic in the final, only to be beaten 3-0. Hibs’ league form waivered over the course of the season and they eventually finished 7th on 51 points, 18 better off than their previous campaign.
Fenlon’s second full season would begin as an unholy nightmare. Before a ball was kicked, the former League of Ireland champion had to find a replacement for his talisman Leigh Griffiths whose loan move from Wolves had expired, and they were unwilling to extend his load or sell the player back to the club. Hibs’ Europa League qualifying round clash against FC Malmo was a huge turning point of opinion in the wrong direction for Fenlon as they were embarrassed 9-0 on aggregate by the eventual Swedish champions.
Action needed to be taken and Hibs brought in Irish u-21 international James Collins from Swindon, and Paul Heffernan from Kilmarnock to bolster their attack. Rowan Vine and Frenchman Abdellah Zoubir also joined rank to put the final touches to Fenlon’s squad, and also to ease the blow caused by the long-term injury of youngster Alex Harris who had shown glimpses of class in the previous season and was rumoured to be courted by some of England’s biggest clubs.
Again, Hibs failed to show any real consistency in their league form, particularly at home having lost four games at Easter Road. The Cabbage currently find themselves in 7th place, where they finished the previous campaign, so is it a lack of continuous improvement that has Hibs fans aggrieved, or is Pat Fenlon just unfortunate to be losing the wrong games at the wrong time? I think even the most fervent of Hibbies fans know that they’re never going to be on a same platform as Celtic, and formerly Rangers, so what is it that has them gathering outside Easter Road pleading for Fenlon’s P45 to be issued to him? Prior to their League Cup defeat to Hearts, Hibs had lost just one of their last nine games in all competitions, so the question begs to be asked, are the fans being unrealistic with themselves and do they need to evaluate how far they’ve come in the space of just under two years?
Another factor to take in to context is the tight financial regime which they do their business by. Unbeknownst to fans, Hibs’ wage budget is considerably less than what their rivals pay, a plan which is implemented to maintain the health and safe-keeping of the club, and to avoid a similar fate to what happened to Hearts who went in to administration and began the season on -15 points.
Ultimately I would hope that chairman Rod Petrie sticks by his man and allows Fenlon to continue a season which is closer to being a promising one that it is a disaster. Hibernian’s last two defeats have come against the league’s second strongest team, Aberdeen, and extremely unluckily against Hearts as they dominated the game and squandered several chances early and late on. In the bigger picture I think Fenlon has performed to standard and expectation minus two calamities, against Hearts in the 2012 SFA Cup Final and the Europa League qualifier against Malmo, which are proving to be all too difficult for Hibs fans to see past at this moment in time. The heat is on for Fenlon and Hibs as unrelenting pressure from disgruntled fans mounts. The two games against two tough opponents, Motherwell and Inverness CT , could well decide Fenlon’s future.