Hibs boss Pat Fenlon believes fans are lapping up the unpredictability of this season’s SPL with a clutch of teams playing “leapfrog” as they tussle for second place in the table.
The Easter Road outfit slipped from second to fourth as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat by Inverness Caley last weekend, Terry Butcher’s side taking their place behind leaders Celtic, while tomorrow’s opponents Motherwell went ahead of them on goal difference as they edged out Ross County.
But even so, just one point separates Hibs from Caley while both Aberdeen and St Johnstone are hard on their heels.
Depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s fixtures, Fenlon’s players could end up back in second spot – or find themselves falling further down the rankings.
But, Fenlon insisted, the fact it’s become virtually impossible to predict the result of any match has made this a nail-biting competition.
He said: “It seems to be the same every week. Whoever we play we can go a couple of points ahead or two or three behind. That shows you how tight the league is.
“You can end up second or maybe sixth, but it’s been like that for a while now. I think the supporters are enjoying it because every week every result has something riding on it. Normally, when Celtic and Rangers are in it, it was more difficult but I think everybody is now looking at it and asking how can you guess the results. It’s been very difficult to do that.
“Some teams have done really well away from home, some have done well at home, so it’s difficult to look at the fixtures every week and say ‘there’s a definite result’.” Coincidentally, Hibs’ home record, the best in the SPL is mirrored by Motherwell’s results on the road, with each having enjoyed five wins, two draws and just one defeat while both sides have scored 27 goals in their 17 matches so far, adding further intrigue to tomorrow’s clash.
Fenlon can well appreciate Motherwell manager Stuart McCall’s frustration at his side’s away form far outshining their home record, having endured a similar experience last season when Hibs managed just two SPL wins at Easter Road. He said: “It’s peculiar and it’s frustrating. When I came we were quite solid away from home but you want to make sure when teams come to your place you make it difficult for them.”
Fenlon will decide today what part skipper James McPake and Gary Deegan will play tomorrow, with the long-term injury victims having been given the green light to return to action. However, the manager has to balance his desire to have two influential characters back in the side against the risk of pitching them in too soon.
He is in no doubt, though, as to what McPake and Deegan, along with Tim Clancy who he hopes will be ready to return within the next ten days after becoming another long-term absentee, will bring to his side. He said: “They are all vocal players for us as well as being good footballers. They have leadership qualities that we probably lacked a little bit of last week.”