Hibernian: Things should be rosy at Easter Road

Written by Lewis Barnes.

FOLLOWING Monday night’s excellent but entirely undeserved victory at Partick Thistle, Hibs are joint fourth in the SPL table.  The Easter Road club have lost only one of their last seven league games and sit second in the form table over these games behind only Celtic with a league cup victory also squeezed in.  The current league position and results are more than respectable, especially given recent seasons.  We are constantly told what a fantastic season Aberdeen are having but Hibs sit behind them in the table only on goal difference.  Yet Hibs fans remain unimpressed and unenthusiastic.  Pat Fenlon remains odds on to the next SPL manager to be sacked, miles ahead of anyone else in “the sack race”.  So what is wrong at Easter Road?

The first problem is the quality of football being produced.  Hibs fans have always demanded entertaining play.  Even during the disastrous 1997/98 relegation season under Jim Duffy the squad contained players such as Tony Rougier and Kevin Harper.  Tony Mowbray was worshipped at Easter Road due to his young exciting squad and the football they played in qualifying for Europe and yet they won nothing.  The football under Fenlon is turgid.  The recent victory over St Mirren is the only league performance of recent times which was remotely entertaining.  In the seven league games mentioned Hibs have scored only eight goals.  The return of the creative Alex Harris and Paul Cairney from injury will help but they way Fenlon sets up his side does not help.  Against smaller teams, especially at home there is no need to play two defensive midfielders.  Tom Taiwo and Kevin Thomson whilst excellent players are too similar.  Moving the more attack minded Scott Robertson into a central position in place of one of those two would give Hibs more offensive options and allow the promising Abdellah Zoubir or Cairney or Harris to come into the starting eleven.  Liam Craig is starting to produce excellent form, culminating in his winner at Firhill and Scott Robertson is like a different player this season.  Paul Heffernan and James Collins could be an excellent strike partnership but will only score goals if chances are created.  Hibs need to better utilise the attacking options available to them.

The defensive set up of the Hibernian team perhaps explains why their home phone is so poor.  Only one of our four league victories this season have come at Easter Road and that was the aforementioned victory over St Mirren.  Hibs struggle to break down teams at home and their set up is more suited to counter attacking away from home as the results suggest.  The atmosphere at Easter Road is another problem.  It has been alluded to many times by the staff at Easter Road and in opposition sides that the nervous atmosphere at home games does not benefit Hibs on the pitch.  However, this is a two way street.  If the manager can provide an attacking exciting team and the players can perform in such a way the supporters will soon come onside and the atmosphere will improve.  There is no doubt a happier Easter Road would help improve results.

Pat Fenlon may see it necessary to utilise such a defensive formation to protect a vulnerable back four.  Ben Williams is an outstanding goalkeeper and his performance against Partick Thistle emphasised that he is one of the best in the country.  He needs to be.  The defensive unit in front of him is at best shaky.  Ryan McGivern has had injury problems and failed to replicate the form of his loan spell.  Tim Clancy is permanently injured and Alan Maybury and Lewis Stevenson have filled in at right back to the best of their abilities.  Michael Nelson seemed to be the commanding centre half we needed but was woeful at Firhill and against Stranraer in the league cup and Paul Hanlon has failed to show any real improvement in the five years he has been in the first team.  He is simply not strong or commanding enough to be a top class centre half.  As a product of the youth team he is given plenty grace and patience but it is surely time to realise that he has been the consistent factor in years of poor defensive displays.  Jordan Forster deserves a chance once recovered from injury after his performances at the tail end of last year.  The hopes of James McPake shrugging of his injury problems to recapture the form he showed when first joining the club seem to be fading.  Hibs need to attack more not only to excite and score goals but to protect this backline.

Hibs relationship with the press also does not help.  It is often noted amongst Hibees that the Scottish football media are quick to criticise the team and also Pat Fenlon, adding to the negativity around Easter Road.  Our manager has even started to counter against this with some recent interviews.  The number of Hearts supporters amongst Scottish football pundits could explain this frostiness but Hibs do not help themselves on this front.  For years the club’s public relations and communication with supporters and the press have been poor and if improved the club and manager may receive more understanding less criticism.

The lack of leadership at Hibernian football club is also a worry.  At the recent annual general meeting chairman Rod Petrie failed to identify any on field targets for the side.  It is impossible to succeed when success cannot be defined.  His assertion that Hibs are the second most successful club in the history of the SPL who have paid all their creditors and lived within their means was designed as a welcome dig at our rivals but boasting about a second place only served to reaffirm the malaise and acceptance of mediocrity that has spread through our club.  Real leadership and football knowledge is required at Easter Road.  Returning to profit is a fine feat but will not bring the fans back or win us any trophies.  To his credit Pat Fenlon seems to have the honesty to realise this, acknowledging when performances are not good enough, refusing to blame injuries or poor officiating and even vaguely offering to step aside if things do not improve.  If Hibs are still fourth in May he may not need to do that, but performances and the style of football must improve if his contract is to be extended beyond the summer.

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0 # John Scott 2013-10-12 00:42
Excellent. Precise and to the point. Unlike the present Hibs team and management!
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