Pat Fenlon believes there’s no other league like the SPL in Europe with just nine points separating second place Inverness Caley Thistle from St Mirren – Hibs’ opponents tomorrow – who lie second bottom.
But while the Easter Road boss reckons the “madness” of a season which makes predicting any result almost impossible may be great for the fans, it has left managers like himself nervous wrecks.
Just how tight things are was highlighted in brutal fashion, as far as Fenlon was concerned, at the start of the week when Hibs lined up to face St Johnstone knowing a win would fire them back up to joint second alongside Caley and Motherwell. Instead they crashed 3-1 and slipped back to fifth spot with a performance the Irishman branded as unacceptable.
And now Fenlon is eyeing tomorrow’s trip to Paisley well aware that a third victory of the season over Danny Lennon’s side could, depending on results elsewhere, see them move upwards once again, but equally conscious defeat might well see them slide down to ninth in the rankings.
The fact he stressed the importance of making the most of home matches given there’s so little separating the ten teams sandwiched between runaway leaders Celtic and bottom club Dundee, stranded in the relegation zone 15 points adrift, made the defeat by Saints all the more disappointing for Fenlon, who admitted his players must ensure they do not emerge pointless not only from tomorrow’s match but the trip to Tannadice the following weekend.
He said: “Every week your home games are so important in this league it is so tight. It’s difficult to predict results, but now we have two away games, tough matches and we have to make sure we pick up something out of both of them.
“A win on Monday would have put us right up there, instead we went down a place. But even after that you are looking and saying we can still go second – or end up second last. I don’t think there’s a league like it anywhere in Europe. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I suppose it’s good for everyone, but not managers. It’s definitely good for the punters and the fact we are getting to the nitty-gritty of the season with only Celtic are away out in front. There’s a lot to play for in all the games, there’s very little in it and it looks like there will be very little decided before the split so it should be interesting.”
Although Hibs took the SPL by surprise in the opening months of the season, flirting with first place and briefly topping the pile, they’ve managed just one win in their last ten league matches, the fact they’ve taken just seven points out of a possible 30 simply serving to underline Fenlon’s assertion as to the fine line between success and failure.
In the wake of the mauling by St Johnstone Fenlon criticised some for having bought into what he saw as the hype surrounding Hibs, today insisting ensuring a top-six finish remained his initial objective.
He declared: “I’ve said from the start that from where we were last year, second last, we wanted to be in the top six. That’s where we feel we should be as a club but I’ve also said before we do not have a divine right too be there just because we are Hibs and have a nice stadium and a lovely training ground.
“We have to make sure we earn the right to be there and that’s part of the disappointment of Monday night, that when you go out on to the pitch you earn the right to play and we did not do that.”
Although highly critical of his team’s display, one which many – including Hibs skipper James McPake – have likened to some of last season’s horror shows, Fenlon believes, or at least hopes, it will prove to be a one-off.
Insisting this was the time for the “big characters” he’s brought to the club to make themselves heard, he went on: “You get to this stage of the season where the lads we have in the dressing-room are really important, that they stand up and be counted. That includes myself and everyone else.
“We were critical of the players after the game and rightly so but they are probably more critical of themselves. There have been games where we have not played well but we have not given up, games where we have not been easily beaten, but that happened on Monday and it should not.
“We know as a group that was not good enough but in fairness to them it has not happened too many times and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”