Friday, September 13, 2013

Hibs: Progress, points, profit

International breaks at this stage of the season always seem to give the impression of a stuttery start to the domestic season.

Actually the increasingly complex global football calendar seems designed to bemuse at this time of year: league competitions kick off while jostling with international weeks, transfer windows and early European starts.

But ours is not to reason why. And at least we can welcome back the SPFL Premiership in good heart after Scotland's win in Macedonia.

Points mean prizes and, with Scotland slipping to the bottom of Group A after the defeat to Belgium on Friday, Gordon Strachan would have been aware that he had to convert progress into points.

Job done on that front at least. Hope for the future as well with players like Ikechi Anya - who made it a special night for anyone betting on unlikely first goalscorers.

And what of matters domestic?

Points and progress have been a running theme of Pat Fenlon's time as manager of Hibs.

No matter how often he's defended himself by pointing to examples of the latter, his case has been too often undermined by an inability to rack up many of the former.

Hibs strip 1980s
This week Hibs announced a return to profit after two years of losses. Given the disappointments and catastrophes of the last couple of years the most recent financial statement might just be the most impressive result Hibs have posted since Fenlon took over.

It certainly explains why Rod Petrie's moustache oversaw an unusually munificent summer - you might argue on the quality of the signings but 10 players arriving and a transfer fee paid for James Collins represent a reasonably significant outlay, certainly in the current climate of the Premiership.

The return to profit will please Petrie, he's a bottom line kind of guy.

But a football club as a business has two bottom lines: the financial and the sporting.

Petrie has been with Hibs long enough to know that sustained improvements in one area can only be achieved with matching success in the other.

Seventh place last season might have been an improvement but it wasn't the sort of progress Fenlon was employed to deliver.

And eighth place, five points and three goals scored after five games this season is not the return on investment Petrie would have wanted when he gave the go ahead to the summer signing spree.

All of which means Fenlon will continue to be a manager under pressure. But possibly not - and this might depress some people who suffered the misery of Hibs v Ross County - a manager in immediate danger of being emptied.

Why? Finances. If other teams continue to struggle, if Hibs can get a few wins and some of the new signings display more consistency then Petrie might just hold fire.

Easter Road's improved finances can at least in part be put down to not parting company with a manager in the last financial year.

With Fenlon's two and a half year deal running out next summer, a natural - and cheaper - end to the relationship is in sight.

It's not a prospect to enthuse but if Fenlon can negotiate the traditionally shark infested waters of the pre-AGM period this month, he might just stick around for the season.