Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Hibs: Another second chance

It's a strange one: sticking around at a stadium to greet like heroes a squad that has just escaped from the struggle of their lives.

Pat Fenlon called last night's acclaim for his Hibs team "embarrassing," stressing that this was more an opportunity to thank the fans rather than an occasion of unadulterated joy.

Football inspires daftness though. And a season long struggle with inadequacy, an inability to plot safe passage through the bog of relegation, can drive a supporter mad.

Last night, then, was a howl of relief as much as anything. Supporters thankful for the escape, thankful to finally have a reason to celebrate.

It took Hibs until their last home game to record a second home league victory, to attract their highest crowd of the season, to deliver a performance that the fans could really respond to and finally finish off the lingering threat of Dunfermline.

Until the last home game of the season, in fact, to offer up any sort of evidence that fans weren’t completely demented to put their faith in the team.

Not just blind faith either. Season tickets might have broken down to as much as £31 per home point and £23.82 per home goal. With kick off times ever more unpredictable, that’s a hefty price to pay for doom and gloom with only sporadic outbursts of football.

Fenlon has had his struggles since inheriting Colin Calderwood’s listing ship. His search for a first home league win went to the wire.

He’ll have been heartened that those three points were won thanks to an impressive team display. Six of the his starting eleven and two of his substitutes have arrived at Easter Road since his first game in December. At the last, his team finally came together.

It’s not been the most rapid of quick fixes but the club was in disarray when he took over. And he has, as he said he would, got the job done.

For that achievement to be truly worthwhile the cycle of loan deals and January window signing sprees has to be broken.

Last season a good February was enough to save Hibs from a prolonged relegation battle.

This season they have not even enjoyed that sort of purple patch. One good month in two seasons is a poor return.

Last summer was defined not by the root and branch rebuilding job that was required but by an obstinate board standing by a disconnected manager.

With the guardian of football matters and the guardians of the purse strings both distracted Hibs drifted aimlessly into the new season.

It took until last night to free them from the obvious consequences of that mismanagement.

They can't afford a repeat.

This summer needs sensible, competitive investment in the team. A reinvigorated scouting policy. The fabled but faded conveyor belt of young talent chugging back into life.

The sort of sound management of footballing matters that has somehow eluded Hibs of late.

A permanent deal for on-loan captain James McPake would be a fine starting point. A show of ambition, a symbol of determination, a sound building block for both the immediate future and a signing to develop a team around in the long term.

It would also be a far more meaningful "thank you" to the fans than a lap of honour in the immediate aftermath of a win over the SPL's bottom club.

Fenlon has a part to play. Some fans still need to be convinced that he's the right man for the job. More perhaps are happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, impressed with his commitment and his desire to put right the wrongs of the past.

He can't do that alone. There are others at the club who have survived managerial changes and presided over the general decline into this malaise.

They've made plenty of mistakes. This summer must surely be their last chance to show that lessons have been learned.

Last night showed that the fans will respond to meaningful games and will react to fine performances.

They shouldn't have to wait until the last home game of the season with SPL survival on the line to prove it.

Of course the landscape might change yet again. Somehow this patchwork team, so often frustrating in the league, find themselves on the brink of the club's biggest ever game.

The Scottish Cup final against Hearts draws ever closer.

A victory there would create legends, make history.

But it wouldn't hugely change the summer's priorities.

A Hampden win would be a hell of a success, one I can hardly begin to comprehend.

Another summer of failures, however, would render it a solitary one.

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