Fenlon's Inevitable Departure Confirmed After Derby Defeat
By Gerry Smith
In the end it had to happen. If Wednesday evening turned into a pre-Halloween horror show for Hibernian supporters, on Friday came the biggest post-Halloween casualty.
In many ways Pat Fenlon was an admirable manager. Throughout his two year tenure at Easter Road, he defended his players to the hilt, answered every question put to him with a straight, if sometimes grumpy, answer, and brought at least a modicum of success in cup competitions.
But it was those very same cups that ended him. Even worse, his departure was directly down to the success of bitter Edinburgh rivals Hearts. Many observers thought his time was up 18 months ago, in the aftermath of a shocking 5-1 Scottish Cup Final capitulation at Hampden to their Tynecastle rivals.
The five time League of Ireland winning boss, though, wasn't exactly alone in Scottish Cup failure in Leith. It's a trophy that has somehow evaded the Easter Road trophy cabinet since 1902. Fenlon at least led Hibs to two Cup Final appearances in a row, the same number of Final appearances they had achieved in the previous 40 years.
When he arrived from Bohemians, Pat had also found Scotland's fifth best supported club in serious relegation trouble in the then Scottish Premier League. But with his infectious enthusiasm for all things football, he ignited some players into fulfilling their potential, with the likes of on loan striker Leigh Griffiths and James McPake shining under his management.
In spite of that, though, there was always a feeling that something wasn't quite there. A hugely encouraging start to 2012/13, where they topped the table for some time, fell away into a bottom half finish. A revenge Cup win over Hearts, and qualification for the Europa League, probably saved his bacon.
Respite was not forthcoming though. After crowd favourite Leigh Griffiths returned to his parent club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Hibs European dream turned into a nightmare. A 2-0 first leg deficit against experienced campaigners Malmo looked something imminently salvageable. But on a torrid summer's evening at Easter Road, a 7-0 reverse, meant the 9-0 aggregate defeat was the worst result of any Scottish club in European competition.
An opening day Scottish Premiership home defeat to Motherwell precipitated the unthinkable, derby defeat at Tynecastle against a hopelessly understrength and relegation bound Hearts. The knives, and very probably the forks and spoons, were out for Pat Fenlon by now. Except perhaps on Gorgie Road.
The Hibernian directors, however, quietly supported their man, and seemed to be vindicated when Fenlon led the side on a run of just one defeat in nine games. You know you're doing something right when, after a hard fought 1-1 draw with Celtic, Parkhead manager Neil Lennon spends his media time complaining about the opposition rather than taking about his own side.
Defeat at home to high flying Aberdeen, however, brought that run to an abrupt end, and if the Hibees league defeat at the hands of Hearts was almost unbelievable, the reverse at home in the Scottish League Cup quarter final was certainly unbearable. Enough for supporters to protest outside the stadium afterwards. Enough too, it transpires, for the Hibernian board of directors.
So the search starts for their 11th manager in 16 seasons. Whoever the incumbent is, they will have the advantage of being at undeniably one of Scotland's top five clubs. That, however, also goes against whoever comes in, with the weight of history and expectation placed upon their shoulders from day one.
It was something that, in the end, someone as obviously decent a person that Pat Fenlon is, found too much. For him, as well as Hibernian, the future looks about as certain and clear-cut as America found itself on Election Day 2000.
For the sake of the green half of Edinburgh, it may well be prudent to take as much time as the Florida law courts did back then, to find their next boss. For the simple reason that, like any other football club, that they need success.
And, just like a new dawn, it doesn't happen overnight.