IVAN SPROULE has praised manager Pat Fenlon for masterminding Hibs’ remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
The winger has watched at close quarters as the club he has grown to love has gone from being hapless relegation candidates over the past two seasons to rampant SPL leaders this time round.
But despite becoming something of a bit-part player in Fenlon’s revolution, Sproule has nothing but praise for the way the manager has revived the club. He said: “A lot of credit has to go to the manager. I think his toughest job was last year, putting the footings in for what we have achieved so far this season.
“We are top of the league and the football is much better than it was last season, but the players are not getting carried away. I think I would put it down to honest hard work and graft. The players that have come in have all gelled. Last season we brought a couple in and, I’m sure the manager would agree, it didn’t quite work. This time the gaffer has done so much homework and research and has brought in players who have made a huge difference. It was not an overnight effort, and there has been a lot of hard work, and I think the fans, the chairman and the board are seeing how well he has done and turned things around.”
Sproule reckons that Hibs now have enough quality running through their side to maintain their push at the top of the table. “That’s the question,” he added, when asked how long their excellent form could continue. “I look at the squad and Gary Deegan came in and everybody raved about him and rightly so. He did a great job.
“He’s been out for us and hopefully in the next month or two he’ll get back into the team.
“Tim Clancy has been out and Lewis Stevenson slotted into left back there at the weekend and did very well. Ryan McGivern has played at centre half when James has been out.
“So when I look at the squad I now see a squad that can rotate and players who can fill in.
“I’m sure the gaffer would like the chairman to come and wave a few pounds at him during the January window and he could maybe bring in one or two more.
“But I take a look at the league and I was impressed by Dundee United here at the weekend. They’ve beaten us and we got our own back down here. They’re a good side.
“Kilmarnock, Inverness, they’re all good sides. For me there isn’t much of a difference between the bottom sides up to the top. So I do think it is going to be a tough league, but if we can keep the momentum we’ve got going at the minute and keep working hard then you never know.
“There’s one thing the gaffer will never let happen in the changing-room and that’s have people jump above their station. So with him at the helm and the attitude the players have got at the minute, I don’t think we’ll be far away.”
Of course, the one fly in the ointment for Sproule is the fact he has become a marginalised figure in Hibs’ success this season. He jokes that he has sat and watched his team-mates so many times this season that he has become an expert on the intricacies of how they play.
He has only made six appearances for Hibs this season and spent the majority of the rest of their games sitting on the bench as players like Paul Cairney and David Wotherspoon have come to the fore.
While he is delighted to see his team-mates flourish under Fenlon and understands that his manager cannot afford to change a winning team, he is desperate to play a larger part.
He said: “It has been difficult for me. I’ve had to sit back. But, at the same time, I haven’t banged on the gaffer’s door asking why I am not playing.
“I can see the likes of Paul Cairney, who has come in and been a revelation, and David Wotherspoon, who is playing the best football of his career. These lads are hungry and putting in great performances week-in, week-out. If you ask me who our leading candidate is to be Player of the Year then I believe the gaffer has 11.
“Their attitude, the application in training, the way they have conducted themselves; there really is a spirit in the changing-room that wasn’t there last year.
“I am playing my part, and if I am required to come on and do my bit, then so be it. But I am fighting to get my place back. I’m not happy to sit there and be a bit-part player, the gaffer knows that.”