Hibs boss Pat Fenlon today insisted he won’t take any chances with skipper James McPake in the midweek SPL clash against St Johnstone ahead of Sunday’s Scottish Cup showdown with Capital rivals Hearts.
The influential defender missed a third successive match as the Easter Road outfit’s unbeaten home record was brought to an end in a “smash-and-grab” raid by Aberdeen as Niall McGinn claimed the game’s only goal in a rare Dons attack 13 minutes from the end.
It was a second defeat in a row for Pat Fenlon’s side, who now travel to face Saints on Wednesday night anxious to get back to winning ways. Hibs have slipped to third place in the SPL table – albeit Aberdeen have replaced them on goal difference – while they remain just one point behind leaders Celtic.
Fenlon revealed McPake, who has been suffering from a back problem, has shown signs of improvement, but the manager will monitor the former Livingston and Coventry City star before deciding whether he’ll make the trip to Perth.
The Easter Road manager said: “We will see how he is. He has been feeling a lot better over the last couple of days. We will monitor him then, if he is right, he will play. If he is not, he won’t.”
While Hibs fans will be desperate to see the no-nonsense stopper return to action, Fenlon insisted his absence had nothing to do with the disappointment of seeing that seven-match unbeaten home run ended, adamant he couldn’t have asked for any more from his players and claiming Aberdeen had Jamie Langfield to thank for the three points as the goalkeeper defied the Hibs attack, and top scorer Leigh Griffiths, in particular.
Fenlon said: “You have days like that. Leigh has had some good days this season, but the goalkeeper brought off some tremendous saves from him.
“I don’t know how many shots Leigh had, but most were on target and their goalkeeper was fantastic. It’s difficult to be critical of anyone because I could not have asked for any more in terms of effort, retention of the ball, creating chances. We just didn’t get a break. For 75 minutes we were battering their goal down and then they break away and score so it is desperately disappointing.
“Our home record has been fantastic so, again, we are disappointed to have lost that, but it’s a case of can we put that tun together again, a stretch of games in which we do not lose.”
Wednesday night’s opponents came from behind to win away to Kilmarnock, a result which has Steve Lomas’s side tucked in just a point behind the Capital outfit with the incentive of knowing victory at McDiarmid Park will take them above Fenlon’s team.
Accordingly, Fenlon is anticipating a testing match in a league where just six points separate Celtic from eighth placed Killie. He said: “I think the fact only one team won at home at the weekend proves it is a tough league.”
Meanwhile, Hibs Under-20s lost 3-2 to Celtic in the Scottish Youth Cup after an own goal and a Danny Handling strike had forced extra time. Hibs midfielder Dean Horribine was sent off.