PAT FENLON today insisted that he doesn’t have to rush any of his injured Hibees back into action because he has a squad strong enough to cope with the Easter Road club’s extensive casualty list.
The Hibs manager has had to contend with a series of injury problems since the beginning of the season, with half a dozen first-team regulars sidelined at one time or another. He began the Scottish Premiership season without defenders James McPake, Tim Clancy and Ryan McGivern as well as midfielder Paul Cairney and then saw winger Alex Harris break a bone in his ankle in the opening-day defeat by Motherwell.
Since then, teenager Danny Handling and midfielder Owain Tudur Jones have been ruled out with ankle and groin injuries respectively, but Fenlon’s squad has risen to the challenge, going into today’s home match against St Mirren on the back of a run of four matches unbeaten. And, although he received a boost with skipper McPake making a second-half appearance in the win over St Johnstone last weekend, Fenlon is adamant the 29-year-old won’t be pitched straight back into frontline action.
McPake continued his comeback by playing in the Under-20s derby against Hearts in midweek, but Fenlon said: “James is in a good position at the moment, he feels strong and really good, but that’s where we have to be careful and just make sure we keep him right.
“However, when he is ready he will have to work his way back into the team, but just having him on the training ground is important because he is a big character around the place.”
Although Clancy, who underwent an operation to cure a nagging groin problem, suffered a setback when he was forced to limp out of an East of Scotland match, Fenlon revealed the fresh injury isn’t as serious as some feared, with the former Kilmarnock and Motherwell defender expected to return to full training on Monday.
McGivern, who suffered another knee injury in the draw against Ross County which forced him out of Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying matches against Portugal and Luxumbourg as well as the trip to McDiarmid Park, is fit again, but Cairney, Harris, Handling and Tudur Jones remain out.
Fenlon said: “We have a lot of players out, but we have a really good squad so we don’t have to rush anyone back at the moment and that’s the key.”
While Fenlon was expected to name the same starting line-up against St Mirren as took to the field in Perth, he admitted he’d be wary of making too many changes for Tuesday night’s League Cup tie against League One Stranraer following the experience of last season when Hibs were shocked by then Second Division side Queen of the South.
That night, Fenlon made four changes to the side which had beaten St Johnstone three days earlier, with Sean O’Hanlon and Pa Kujabi playing what proved to be their last matches for the club while
Callum Booth found himself being farmed out to Livingston on loan for the remainder of the season, the youngster now on a similar deal at Raith Rovers.
The 2-0 defeat at Palmerston Park also saw veteran Finnish striker Shefki Kuqi make the first of only two starts in a Hibs shirt. Fenlon said: “We chopped and changed the team probably too much and I take responsibility for that. “We want to win both games [against St Mirren and Stranraer] so we will see how today goes and then make a decision on who plays Tuesday.”