Pat FENLON today insisted he was right to leave out top scorer Leigh Griffiths as Hibs passed up the chance to go top of the SPL table by surrendering a two-goal lead against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Griffiths failed a late fitness test after aggravating an ankle knock as he scored both goals in the Easter Road outfit’s 2-1 win over Kilmarnock seven days earlier, leaving Fenlon to opt for 18-year-old Ross Caldwell rather than Finnish veteran Shefki Kuqi to partner Eoin Doyle up front.
It looked as if Griffiths’ absence wouldn’t be noticed as Doyle and David Wotherspoon fired Hibs two up after just 31 minutes, with Paul Cairney hammering a shot off the post in between those strikes. But a contentious goal by Caley kid Conor Pepper threw Terry Butcher’s side a lifeline which they grabbed nine minutes from time as skipper Richie Foran claimed what at one time had had looked like being a highly improbable equaliser.
Although disappointed with the final outcome, Fenlon was anything but downbeat having seen Hibs stretch their unbeaten SPL run to six matches, the Hibs manager claiming his side had created enough goalscoring opportunities to have been “out of sight” by half-time with a display which he
insisted proved they were “not a one-man team.”
He said: “We could probably have risked Leigh. He is pain free but his ankle is still a little bit puffy so rather than risk maybe losing him for four or five weeks I think we did the wise thing. I also think it shows we are not a one-man team, we scored good goals and could have scored a few more.”
And Fenlon revealed Caldwell was always going to be his first-choice replacement with 35-year-old Kuqi continuing his battle to attain full match fitness. The Irishman said: “Shefki is working really hard to get himself right but I thought Ross was very good. Eoin and him haven’t played together too often but in the first half I thought they were a handful for their back four.
“We have some good young players here. It is important they get a chance to play and it will have given the other boys who have come through the ranks a lift to see him starting and getting that opportunity.”
If there was a definite sense of disappointment at the final outcome, Fenlon insisted he couldn’t be too critical of his players. He said: “I thought we played really well in the first half in particular and we could have been out of sight at half-time but their goal gave them that wee chink of light.
“We said at half-time we needed to keep that momentum going but we knew they had not played particularly well and that Terry Butcher was not going to accept that. They were a bit more competitive and in our faces but even then we had a couple of decent chances. Both goalkeepers made some great saves.
“Sometimes you have days like that where you play okay and you are disappointed not to have picked up the points, but overall I cannot be too critical.”