PAT FENLON has revealed his determination to turn Hibs into the Capital’s top team, insisting Hearts have had it all their own way for too long.
But, the Easter Road boss insisted, that as his side’s results improve, their chances of turning the tables on their greatest rivals will also rise. The Irishman reached the lowest point in his career as he watched the Gorgie outfit maul his team in the final of last season’s William Hill Scottish Cup, but since then Hibs have remained unbeaten in the last three derby clashes.
They go into the latest showdown with the Tynecastle club having knocked the holders out of this season’s competition and now stand just 90 minutes from a second successive final, while having also turned around their fortunes in the SPL, where they are chasing a top-six finish.
Although only six points separate Hibs in sixth from tenth placed Hearts, Fenlon’s side go into tomorrow’s game Easter Road regarded as favourites, something that hasn’t been said too often in recent years with the Jambos crossing the city knowing they haven’t lost a league match to their near neighbours since Derek Riordan’s penalty proved to be the only goal of the game almost four years ago.
Fenlon, though, insisted being the bookies favourites didn’t make any difference to him, saying: “I think when we came into the club it was about improving results in general and I think if you do that then you will improve our results in relation to the derby games.
“Hearts have been in the ascendancy over Hibs for a long time, so as well as trying to change the fortunes of the club we have to try to change that stat as well, to make sure we are competitive in all the derby games, which I think we have been since the end of last season.”
Fenlon expects tomorrow’s match to be no different to any other derby, a fierce, passionate affair with both sides determined to send their fans home happy with the bragging rights secured until the next time. Gary Locke, though, will be bringing a different looking side to Easter Road than might have been expected had John McGlynn not been sacked last week, the interim manager having brought a little more experience into the Hearts team and with an obvious threat from a powerful strikeforce of on-loan Liverpool star Michael Ngoo and John Sutton.
However, Fenlon was adamant it meant little change to his approach to the game. He said: “Gary has been there a long, long time. He knows the players inside out and he wants to play the way he sees is the best for Hearts. But we are concentrating on our own team. I think we have been playing quite well recently and we have to make sure we continue to do that.
“I felt we played really well in the Cup game [at Kilmarnock], we passed the ball well even although the goals were all long ball goals according to reports. But I think we have to make sure we do not get caught up in the helter-skelter of the game, we have to try to get the ball down and pass it as well as we can.”
Fenlon is well aware of the physical threat Ngoo and Sutton in particular will pose but, again, he insisted his side will be well prepared for whatever Hearts throw at them. He said: “We have worked on things this week and we’ll do so again today and make sure we stick to our game plan. We’ll try to nullify Hearts strengths, but it’s really important we stick to our game.
“We have some really good players at the moment, the three boys in midfield did really well last weekend so we have to ensure we get the ball down and try to play.”
If Ngoo and Sutton are seen as the Hearts dangermen, then undoubtedly on-fire Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths, who took his tally for the season to 22 with his glory hat-trick at Rugby Park, will be seen as Enemy No. 1 by the Jambos even if seven goals in his last five matches weren’t enough to convince Scotland boss Gordon Strachan he was worth a place in his squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifying matches against Wales and Serbia.
Strachan did, however, admit Griffiths had been unlucky not to make it, the on-loan Wolves star himself having pointed out the calibre of strikers available – players such as Kenny Miller, Steven Fletcher, Jordan Rhodhes and Steven Naismith. But Fenlon believes Griffiths, who earned his first full cap in the friendly against Luxembourg when Billy Stark took temporary charge of the national team, will go on to enjoy a long career at international level.
He said: “The way I look at it at the moment is that Scotland have some real good quality forwards. All Leigh can do is make sure he is putting it in people’s minds that he is around and is capable of playing at that level.
“Gordon Strachan is a very experienced manager and I’m not going to tell him his job. He has picked some really good players in that position, but Leigh is a young player who is making real progress and I am sure if he keeps making that progress he will have plenty of time to play for Scotland.
“The one thing he loves is training and playing football matches. He knows he is improving as a player and that’s what he wants to keep doing. There are parts of his game he knows he has to work on, but I look to the fact he is a young player who is moving in the right direction and scoring goals.
“He will get an opportunity, I am sure, to play for Scotland and hopefully over a long period of time as he progresses his career.”