Sunday, December 18, 2011

SPL Advent: Hibs

Hitting the halfway stage of the SPL Advent calendar. Another annus horribilis for Hibs.

Even those well versed in the grimness of the SPL might have been taken aback by the sheer scale of the despair Hibs have engendered amongst the faithful this season.

If appointing Colin Calderwood was a mistake it was an exponential error, compounded by every signing he was allowed to make and every show of support the board made.

While Calderwood played footsy with Nottingham Forest and blew kisses at Birmingham, Hibs were sinking further into the abyss.

But a petrified (Petrie-fied?) board stuck with him, even rhapsodised about his well hidden attributes, and let the destruction continue.

The result of that folly can be seen in a squad that's not fit for purpose, a support that has ebbed away and a league position that tells no lies.

It has been, for those of us whose sympathies lie in Leith, a horrendous nightmare.

The second half collapse in the League Cup against Celtic, an astonishingly one-sided one-nil defeat against Motherwell, abject surrenders against a limited Dunfermline side in both an away draw and a home loss. Take your pick.

Two of the three games Hibs have won have been 3-2 victories. This was a team so bereft of spine that scoring three goals was just about the only way they could be - reasonably - confident of winning.

It all left Calderwood - and by extension chairman Rod Petrie and his band of taciturn directors - about as welcome in the pubs and hearts of Leith as Jeremy Clarkson at a Fabian Society conference.

I'm not one for leaving games early but it became clear quite early in the home defeat to Dunfermline that the only sensible reason for staying was to vent your frustrations at the end of the game.

Calderwood - the man Rod Petrie had trumpeted as a masterful manager in July - had succeeded in turning the club against itself.

There is a body of opinion that the unease - often the outright negativity - of the fans has hampered Hibs, contributed to their woeful home record.

I'd only really buy that if their away form was spectacularly better. It hasn't been: six points won at home, eight points won away.

The league's joint lowest goalscorers, Hibs have scored eight goals at Easter Road and eight on the road. Half the 28 goals they've conceded have come at home and half away from home.

A team has been built capable of attaining the same levels of crapness wherever they go.

Something had to give. And give it did, in the immediate aftermath of the Dunfermline defeat that had given final confirmation that a Hibs side led by Calderwood would be condemned to fight a relegation battle that they lacked the character to survive.

So Calderwood was gone. The names of the usual suspects were tossed around like empty crisp packets on the cold Edinburgh wind.

But the board - not Petrie, who apparently excused himself from the selection process - alighted on a saviour from across the water.

Welcome Pat Fenlon.

Fenlon arrived with a strong track-record in Irish football, a pocket full of bang-on-the-money, supporter pleasing platitudes and a Herculean task ahead of him.

The neglect, the incompetence, the inadequacies of the last year or so all now lie on his desk.

He immediately brought Michael Hart back into the team at full-back. That wasn't universally welcomed by fans, particularly after what many seemed to consider a horror show against Rangers last week.

But it's hard not to feel sympathy for the manager. Why did he play Hart? Because he's the sort of revolutionary gaffer who likes players to play in their own position. And Michael Hart is, remarkably, the one player in the Hibs squad who would describe himself as a full back.

That's where the mismanagement of the club has led. To a squad that needs strengthening in the next transfer window in exactly the same areas as it needed strengthening in the last transfer window. And the transfer window before that.

Budgets, wage caps, worldwide economic instability. We all know its hard. But Hibs have spent money, paid wages, identified and signed players and not even managed to stand still.

Fenlon's immediate priority is to stop the club going backwards.

And, when you find yourself joint bottom of the league, the margin of error is negligible.

Then the stranger spoke, he said: "do not fear"


The success of Pat Fenlon would be the best, and the most important, gift of all.

It's too early to make a judgement on that. I've warmed to him since he's arrived and there looks to be a change in attitude and application on the pitch.

No real conclusions can be drawn from an abandoned game at Motherwell and a spirited defeat to a misfiring Rangers. Yesterday Hibs had chances against Aberdeen. A dodgy penalty later and their shape and coherence was lost. Same old, same old.

The only hope is that Fenlon has answers enough to solve the ugly conundrum of Hibs' season.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.