Hibs stars today reacted with shock at the news boss Pat Fenlon had quit only hours after taking their morning training session at East Mains.
Fenlon’s players had no inkling of their manager’s intentions as he put them through their paces ahead of tomorrow’s Scottish Premiership match against Motherwell at Fir Park.
And, so closely guarded a secret it was, midfielder Owain Tudur Jones spoke of their determination to “fight” for their under-fire boss only minutes before chairman Rod Petrie announced the Irishman was leaving after almost two years at the helm. Fenlon, though, was at East Mains this morning to say his goodbyes to both them and his backroom staff.
The vast majority of the squad were signed by Fenlon, the 44-year-old having brought an astonishing 28 players to Easter Road while even more left as he set about revamping the under-achieving club while a number of home-grown youngsters were given their first-team debuts by him.
One of them, 19-year-old Alex Harris, who is currently recovering from a broken bone in his ankle, tweeted: “Gutted at the news about the manager. Wednesday night’s result was obviously hugely disappointing for the club but on a personal level always enjoyed my time playing in his team and owe him a lot for giving me my chance in football. Wish him all the best for the future.”
And teenage defender Jordon Forster, who is in line to replace suspended skipper James McPake against the Steelmen tomorrow, added: “Disappointed to hear the news. The guy gave me my opportunity and I will always be in debt for that.”
More senior players were equally appreciative of their departing boss, former St Johnstone midfielder Liam Craig tweeting: “Disappointed the manager has left. Always be grateful to him for bringing me to Hibs and wish him all the best in the future.”
Scott Robertson, signed from Blackpool, added: “I am sorry to hear that the gaffer has left the club and would like to wish him all the best in the future.”
And goalkeeper Sean Murdoch said: “Very sad to hear the manager has left. IMO an excellent manager, who has brought the club on leaps and bounds from where it was.”
In his statement announcing Fenlon’s departure, Petrie said: “Pat arrived when we were at a very low point almost two years ago, and he has worked tirelessly to bring about improvement since his first day.
“He has taken us to two Scottish Cup finals in successive seasons, and in his first full season in charge improved our league standing by 18 points and four places. He has assembled a squad of talented players, but feels that he should now hand over the reins. We wish Pat every success in the future and thank him for all of his efforts.”
But Mike Riley, chairman of the Hibs Supporters’ Association, who had branded the midweek League Cup defeat by Hearts a “disgrace,” insisted Fenlon had done the right thing and praised him for taking the decision to quit himself although he admitted he didn’t think such a move was coming.
He said: “When I went back to the Hibs club on Wednesday night everyone wanted him to go. I have never seen so many of them so adamant – not even when Colin Calderwood was there. They’d all made up their minds he had to go.
“But I do think the fact he felt all the focus was on him and he had to walk away because he believes it is the right thing to do says a lot about him. I actually thought there would be a determination to ride out the storm. If you look at the squad he has assembled it’s as good as any in the league outwith Celtic.”