James McPake can take leading role in Hibs defence

HIBS boss Pat Fenlon believes new signing James McPake can become a father figure to his Easter Road kids.

Although delighted to have a squad packed with promising youngsters, Fenlon has also been keenly aware of the need for more experienced figures to lend them a guiding hand.

Sorting out his defence has been a particular priority, the recent absence through injury of club captain Ian Murray leaving him with only Sean O’Hanlon and Michael Hart as seasoned professionals in that area.

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Through necessity he has often been forced to field a back four made up mostly of young players.

Paul Hanlon, although he has played more than 100 first-team games; David Stephens; Callum Booth; on-loan Celtic player Richie Towell; and newcomer George Francomb are all aged 22 or under, Fenlon admitting the lack of an older shoulder to lean on at times can make life difficult for the youngsters as they face up to the rigours of life in the SPL.

But now he’s hoping the presence of 27-year-old former Livingston stopper McPake, on loan until the end of the season from English Championship outfit Coventry City, will help ease the burden.

He said: “James can give us that bit of guidance and help around the team in relation to his knowledge of the game and his communication skills in addition to what he brings on the park.

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“We have a lot of good young players here, but young players need guiding both on and off the park.”

And Fenlon believes McPake’s influence will be felt even further afield than his first team squad with a number of the club’s Under-19 squad such as Sam Stanton and Ross Caldwell now pushing for the step-up along with that side’s former captain Scott Smith who has returned from his loan spell with Brechin City.

The Easter Road boss said: “Some of the Under-19s have been around the fringes of the first team, but you need experienced professionals who know what it takes to play under a bit of pressure as we are at the moment and how to deal with it.”

And even if he isn’t wearing the captain’s armband, Fenlon believes McPake can be a leader – along with others.

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He said: “You can be a captain without an armband on. Armband or not, you should be able to organise and lead a team. It’s important when we have a lot of young players to have individuals like that: not just in one position, but scattered around the team, and able to organise and able to help out when under a bit of pressure.”

Fenlon believes Tom Soares, signed on loan from Stoke City just hours after McPake agreed to return north of the Border, can similarly bring his experience to bear, the former England Under-21 cap now 25 and desperate to kick-start a career which has stalled somewhat at the Britannia Stadium.

Revealing it was pester-power which helped persuade Stoke boss Tony Pulis to agree to Soares’ move, Fenlon said: “Tom is a fantastic football player. I spoke to a few people who played with him at Crystal Palace and I think I’ve annoyed Tony over the last three or four weeks about him!

“Tom has real quality, he’s a big physical player and I think the supporters will enjoy watching him play. He’s a good player, but, again, he brings a lot of knowledge to the squad.”

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Fenlon, though, isn’t content with the additions he has made, the Hibs boss adamant he’d like to add further experience before the transfer window slams shut on Tuesday night, with former Scotland midfielder Gavin Rae having caught his attention.

Currently with Dundee, the 34-year-old is believed to have a gentleman’s agreement with Dens Park manager Barry Smith that he can leave the First Division club if he receives an offer from elsewhere.

Fenlon, though, could face competition with his hometown club Aberdeen also alerted by his fine form for the Dark Blues.