Hibs boss Fenlon backs Hanlon after tough fortnight

Paul Hanlon gets the better of Lyle Taylor in the Cup semi-final. Picture: SNS

Paul Hanlon gets the better of Lyle Taylor in the Cup semi-final. Picture: SNS

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HIBS manager Pat Fenlon believes Paul Hanlon is getting back to his best after a tough few weeks for the defender.

Hanlon was criticised in some quarters for his displays against Celtic and Falkirk, although the Easter Road boss feels the centre-back should be cut some slack as those were the first two games he played following six weeks out with a hip problem.

Fenlon feels the 23-year-old looked much more like his usual self as he produced an assured display in Monday night’s goalless draw against Aberdeen.

Ahead of tomorrow’s SPL visit from St Mirren, he said: “A bit like Tim Clancy and Kevin Thomson, we’ve thrown Paul in at the deep end without loads of real training under his belt. I think the game the previous week at Hampden has helped him, in a funny way, that sharpened him up. He did look a lot brighter and a lot sharper and a lot more aggressive on Monday night.”

Fenlon is keeping a close eye on right-back Clancy and midfielder Thomson as they feel their way back to full fitness following lengthy periods on the sidelines. The manager hinted he may be inclined to give the duo a rest in the coming weeks, possibly tomorrow.

He said: “We’ll see how Tim Clancy and Kevin Thomson are because they’ve played a lot of games in a short period of time. Both of them are okay, but we’ll just monitor them.”

Meanwhile, Fenlon has welcomed striker Leigh Griffiths’ nomination for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year and the Young Player of the Year award. The manager insists his talisman fully deserves recognition for a season in which he has blocked out negative headlines surrounding off-field matters to continue scoring consistently for Hibs. “I’m delighted for Leigh,” said Fenlon. “If he could win one that would be fantastic. He’s had a great season, he probably deserves it as much as anybody else. His goals have been what people are talking about but his all-round, general game has improved this year as well. And he’s working hard off the pitch as well to make sure that’s good. He deserves it.”

Fenlon has been impressed by Griffiths’ attitude at East Mains and believes the on-loan Wolves player will continue to improve as long as he is able to steer clear of trouble.

“Leigh’s only a young player and he’s maturing, which is really important for him,” said Fenlon. “He’s got to mature on and off the park. There are aspects of his game that he’s worked on and he needs to work on. But the one thing you can’t give people is natural finishing ability and he’s got that in abundance.

“You can add other things to his game. His link-up play, I think, this year has improved and his work-rate has improved as well. It’s like most young players, you get to a point where they can stop and think they’ve done all the work. But Leigh wants to train every day, he’s happiest when he’s out on the park training, and that’s a good thing because then he is improving all the time.

“He can play at a higher level and I think it’s really up to Leigh, and in Leigh’s head, how far he can go, to be honest. He’s playing at the highest level he can in this country but I think he’s capable of going back down the road, if he does that, and playing at that level as well. But it’s about him buying into that. He’s seen this year how much he’s improved with his work-rate and he’s got to juggle that and make sure the stuff off the pitch and on the pitch are as good as each other.

“I work with him every day and I’ve got a decent relationship with the young lad, and he’s great to work with. You say that about a lot of players but his attitude and his application to training is first-class. He’s got to eradicate the other stuff, and he knows that. We’ve spoken about that before, and he’s trying, I’ll give him that, he is trying hard.

“But I think that’s the key to what level he wants to go to. If you look at all the top players, off the pitch they’re very good.”