Hibs boss Pat Fenlon has urged Fraser Mullen to cut out the challenges which have led to the young defender being taken off before he was sent off in each of his last two matches.
The 19-year-old was “hooked” by Fenlon after just 38 minutes of the Easter Road clash with Dundee United after picking up an early booking for a rash challenge on Tannadice winger Gary Mackay-Steven having suffered a similar fate following a first-half yellow card in the Edinburgh derby just six days previously.
In each case, Fenlon feared that the 19-year-old former Hearts kid could fall foul of the referee again and earn himself an early bath, so reshaped his back four with Lewis Stevenson moving over to the right as Northern Ireland internationalist Ryan McGovern stepped in at left-back.
Mullen was in a vulnerable position after a clumsy tenth-minute tackle floored Mackay-Steven, leaving him walking a tighrope as the Tannadice star was given full licence to run at him, the same situation he’d found himself in as he returned to Tynecastle for the first time since his summer move across the Capital after being booked for a foul on former team-mate David Smith.
Today Fenlon expressed his hope that Mullen, who is taking advantage of Tim Clancy’s absence following a groin operation to stake his claim for a place in the starting line-up, will learn from the experience of an ignominious early exit, the Irishman saying: “I thought his tackle was a bit reckless.
“In the game he is going to come up against some tricky players and he has to make sure he learns to time his tackles a little bit better.”
Meanwhile, Fenlon admitted that while he was happy to finally get a point on the board, Scott Robertson’s late strike against his old club cancelling out Stuart Armstrong’s opener to end a sequence of four successive defeats in which 11 goals had been conceded with none scored in reply, he was less than pleased with his side’s performance, particularly in the opening 45 minutes.
Conceding that the recent run of dismal results had sapped morale, Fenlon insisted a lack of confidence was no excuse for the lack of passion and desire as he saw it throughout the first half.
He said: “If you are losing games you are going to struggle for confidence but you can still get in people’s faces, be hard to beat and make sure you are up against your opponent and he doesn’t win the game and that didn’t happen. I said to them at half-time they hadn’t shown any desire or passion to win the game.
“We were beaten by our big rivals last week so we should have been coming into this one bouncing, looking forward to playing and with a determination that we wanted to kick on.”