Fenlon has eye on routes back into Europe with Hibernian

Making top six is the first target for Dubliner

Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon argues with the fourth official Steven McLean during the  Scottish Premier League match at Easter Road. Photograph: Chris Clark/PA

Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon argues with the fourth official Steven McLean during the Scottish Premier League match at Easter Road. Photograph: Chris Clark/PA


Still smarting after a poor piece of refereeing last weekend cost his side victory in the Edinburgh derby, Pat Fenlon will look to get Hibernian back to winning ways this evening at Motherwell where a repeat of October’s 4-0 league success would represent a huge boost to the club’s faltering hopes of making the top six when the SPL splits in a few weeks’ time.

The Dubliner, back home this week to promote EA Sports’ Fifa 13 Ultimate League, is still baffled by referee Euan Norris’s failure to award a goal when Leigh Griffiths’s long-range free 13 minutes from time was “probably further [over] than Lampard’s in the World Cup,” but, he acknowledges, “the fact is we’ve still got games to play. If it was at the end of it and we were out of it . . . (but) we’ve got three big games to play to try and get in that top six which is really important for us this year.”

Hibernian have come a long way in the short time Fenlon has been in charge. A year ago they were embroiled in a dogfight to avoid relegation while now they are 21 points clear of the drop zone. After a remarkably strong start to the current campaign, however, their momentum has been lost of late with just nine points taken from the 27 that have been up for grabs since victory over Celtic at the end of December.

Tough games
Another cup final looks to be within their grasp but, with Dundee United, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen all breathing down their neck, Hibs need to start winning again over the course of three tough looking games if they are going to hang on to sixth place and so keep open another route into Europe.

“I’ve been used to getting into Europe so you’d like to get back to that and if you can get into the cup final this year and get into that six in the league then you’ve obviously got a great chance of getting in.

“But,” he observes in relation to a league where Celtic’s spending ensures they dominate, “success at the moment for us is probably to get Hibs back to that era where they were consistently at the top end of the table and looking to pick up some silverware along the line.”

The first step, he says, has been achieved with the strengthening of the squad; the upshot being that Easter Road is no longer a place teams look forward to visiting in quite the way they have done for the last few seasons.

Only started
He is, he insists however, still only getting going with his work at the SPL outfit. “I think the job where I am at the moment is a great job but we’ve only started. Hibs is a fabulous club, there’s everything there in place to kick it on and move it on. We can attract 15,000 or 16,000 on a regular basis if we do well; a lot of clubs down south can’t do that. So it’s a job I’ve got my teeth into and would like to remain in for a long time to be honest.”

Beyond that, he admits, he would dearly love to manage the Irish team although his more immediate desire is to see it do well under current boss Giovanni Trapattoni, whose approach he has not always agreed with.

“I think every manager has aspirations to manage their country but there is a manager there at the moment and I’m a supporter of my country: I want us to do well. I’ve been commentating on the last four or five games (though) and you are saying the same things in most games,” he continues. “We are being outplayed in the middle of the park where we are outnumbered. (Because of that) we don’t have a lot of ball retention and eventually that leads to you coming under a lot of pressure.

“But that’s the way the manager wants to play. In fairness, his record over a course of time has been very good. But,” he concludes with the quiet confidence of somebody whose time is still coming, “the game is changing.”