Hibs boss Pat Fenlon today hailed the impact Jimmy Nicholl has made at Easter Road, describing his right-hand man as “a breath of fresh air.”
Nicholl was a shock arrival at the Capital club after first-team coach Liam O’Brien’s surprise departure, but Fenlon claimed the former Northern Ireland internationalist’s experience has proved “invaluable” as Hibs overcame a stuttering start to the season to climb into the top half of the Scottish Premiership table.
Although he did not know Nicholl personally, Fenlon revealed he had been impressed by the ex-Raith Rovers, Millwall and Cowdenbeath manager during his spell as No. 2 to Kenny Shiels at Kilmarnock, the former Manchester United and Rangers star having also gained a wealth of coaching experience with the likes of Dunfermline and Aberdeen.
Fenlon said: “Jimmy has been different class and a breath of fresh air to the place. His contribution to us and everything in relation to our games has been very good since he arrived.
“I think we’ve been very fortunate to get someone like him into the club. I think he’s happy enough in the job and his experience is invaluable. I didn’t have a relationship with him at all before he came here. Obviously I had watched him as a player for Northern Ireland, but it was more from coming up against him in Hibs versus Kilmarnock games.
“We didn’t know each other but I spoke to others about him and what they told me is exactly what you get with Jimmy. He’s been excellent for us so far. He brings a smile to people’s faces at the club. About the place he’s really good and the players enjoy working with him.
“I’ve changed the whole coaching staff since I became manager, but Jimmy’s been a superb addition.”
Fenlon revealed how Nicholl’s knowledge had been put to good use in the signing of Michael Nelson as cover in the absence of crocked skipper James McPake, and again when striker Paul Heffernan became available just as the summer transfer window was about to close.
Nicholl, of course, knew both players from his time at Rugby Park and his input proved vital. Fenlon said: “Paul happened on the last day of the transfer window because it wasn’t something we thought we’d be able to do, as he was under contract and we weren’t able to pay another transfer fee. But Jimmy had good knowledge of him from Kilmarnock and we were absolutely delighted to get him in. I actually tried to sign Michael before he went to Killie and we missed out on him. We needed a centre-half with James being injured and, again, I spoke to Jimmy about him.
“He’s worked with both of them and that’s the major plus of having Jimmy at the club – his knowledge of the game.”
The transfer deadline-day signings of Heffernan and French kid Abdellah Zoubir took Fenlon’s summer signing spree into double figures, leaving the Hibs boss, in his estimation, with a squad which is as good as any in the Premiership outwith champions Celtic – the only task remaining being for the players to prove him right.
The Irishman said: “There is no doubt we have an excellent squad, but it’s about getting them all on the park and playing to the standard we expect.
“We had to change the back four yet again last Saturday which isn’t ideal, but I believe our squad is as good as anyone’s in this league, outside of Celtic.
“It’s okay me saying that. Now we’ve got to go out on the pitch and back that up by showing it. That’s where we are – we have to go and prove that point.”