The worst Hibs team in history?

23/08/2013 § Leave a comment

Several Hibs players look perplexed during the 7-0 home defeat to Malmo in Europe

Several Hibs players look perplexed during the 7-0 home defeat to Malmo in Europe

Following Hibernian’s miserable start to the 2013/14 season, it’s fair to say things are not all rosy at Easter Road Stadium right now. An embarrassing 9-0 aggregate defeat to Swedish side Malmo in UEFA’s Europa League qualifiers kicked off the campaign and part of that double header saw Hibs lose the home leg 7-0 in Edinburgh. Arguably the team’s worst result in its proud history.

The two Malmo displays were followed up by the commencement of the new Scottish Professional Football League season with Pat Fenlon’s team collecting just one point from the three opening Premiership games. First up was a toothless home outing and 1-0 defeat to Motherwell. The winner coming from new ‘Well signing Henri Anier in a game in which the Hibees barely mustered a shot on target. That was followed by the Edinburgh Derby at Tynecastle where Hibs were on the end of the same scoreline defeat to rivals Hearts, following an opportunist header from Callum Paterson. That loss came amidst a Hearts administration, transfer embargo and the deduction of minus 15 points for the Jambos.

New Hibs striker Rowan Vine

New Hibs striker Rowan Vine

Back at Easter Road for game three in the league, and with Dundee United playing the hosts off the park, amidst a Gary Mackay-Steven masterclass, a late Scott Robertson equalizer following Kevin Thomson’s red card may just have saved Fenlon his job—for now. The Irishman and the board alike have been under sustained precious from the fans since Malmo, with some calling for drastic change from within. And that brings me to my question of the day—is this current squad assembled in Leith the worst Hibs team ever?

Since Fenlon marched gleefully through the Easter Road doors back in November 2011, he has brought in over 20 different players in an attempt to attain glory. Potentially there is no better time for teams outside of the Old Firm to do so with Rangers plundering around in the lower leagues.

Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon

Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon

Now Hibs like the majority of teams in Scotland must work within a limited budget, with funding for football clubs in Scotland as scarce as ever. When I was growing up, Easter Road was glittered with the likes of Franck Sauzee, Russell Latapy, David Zitelli and Marc Libbra gracing the field and those named turned it into a venue feared by many. That era was followed up by a talented group of young Scots including Scott Brown, Tam McManus, Ian Murray and Garry O’Connor that would regularly entertain the Hibs faithful with a fast, electrifying style of football during the Bobby Williamson, Tony Mowbray and John Collins eras as managers respectively. Current stars Lewis Stevenson and Thomson were around in the midst of that. Stevenson has actually never left. The once tenacious central midfielder with so much promise is now plying his trade quietly week in week out at left back. To be fair to Thomson, he left Easter Road for Rangers and then Middlesbrough, with a series of unfortunate knee injuries sending his career into somewhat of a demise.

But either way, those bright days are long gone. When Setanta Sports burst onto the scene, Scottish football’s hierarchy plumped for a new and rumoured more lucrative deal, which in hindsight, turned out to be a disaster. Setanta went bust, the T.V money disappeared and Scottish football currently has to play second fiddle on Sky Sports to the English Premier League and The Football League.

Tall midfielder Owain Tudur-Jones was signed from Inverness Caley Thistle

Tall midfielder Owain Tudur-Jones was signed from Inverness Caley Thistle

So Fenlon has a mediocre transfer budget at best, and one within which he has worked gracefully, but seemingly to no avail. Players acquired for the 2013/14 season include much-travelled English striker Rowan Vine, midfielder Owan Tudur-Jones from Inverness Caledonian Thistle, centre half Michael Nelson from Bradford, striker James Collins from Swindon Town, former St Johnstone midfielder Liam Craig as well as right back Fraser Mullen who swapped Hearts for the other side of Edinburgh. The point being, these names hardly set the heather on fire as they say in Scotland. Having said that, early season injuries to creative midfielders Alex Harris and Paul Cairney have hardly helped matters either.

Some might say that Fenlon hasn’t been given enough support from those above him at Hibs, with chairman Rod Petrie only enhancing his reputation of keeping the wallet tight, although Collins’ signing apparently cost £200,000. People might say Petrie is only doing a sensible job and living within the means of Scottish football’s current climate. Others may interpret him as somewhat tight when releasing funds for new players. I would tend to side with the former.

Hibs chairman Rod Petrie has supported Pat Fenlon in the manager's role despite a poor start to the 2013/14 campaign

Hibs chairman Rod Petrie has supported Pat Fenlon in the manager’s role despite a poor start to the 2013/14 campaign

But there’s a way to work within such tight budgets and arguably a way in getting the best out of what you have. Look at Aberdeen for example. This summer, on a similar budget, Dons boss Derek McInnes has brought in Scotland international Barry Robson, ex-Celtic star Willo Flood from Dundee United, pacey winger and ex-Ranger Greg Wylde, and powerful striker Calvin Zola. With that, Aberdeen are flying, with the mood amongst fans at Pittodrie as vibrant as ever. The same can’t be said for Hibs.

When football fans unite in criticism, it is normally with reason. It’s fair to say the majority of Fenlon’s signings have hardly hit the ground running. And with the amount of new personnel that have come in, questions are bound to be asked. Prior to entering Scottish football, Fenlon had a very successful three years as manager of Irish side Bohemians and was also linked to vacant jobs at Dundee United and Kilmarnock. Some fans have called for the Dubliner’s head at this early stage of the new season, and with zero wins registered and only one goal scored, they might have a case. Yet we must still remember the same man led Hibernian all the way to a Scottish Cup Final at Hampden last year.

Goalscorer James Collins has been signed for a reported £200,000 from Swindon Town

Goalscorer James Collins has been signed for a reported £200,000 from Swindon Town

One thing’s for sure though. Gone are the days of The Famous Five, the Sauzee’s, the Latapy’s with Hibs’ only saving grace this season being that Edinburgh foes Hearts have begun the campaign in the red on both budget and points front.  Has Fenlon mustered up the worst Hibs team ever, fans can decide and potentially, only time will tell.

Easter Road Stadium, home of Hibernian FC

Easter Road Stadium, home of Hibernian FC

To quote iconic Scottish duet group The Proclaimers, “There is a bonnie football team at Easter Road they play. I go along to see them every other Saturday. Their colour’s green and white the finest in the land today. And the Hibs go marching on.”

The term “finest in the land today” is far from the case right now. They will go marching on,  but whether glory does indeed come back to the Hibees sometime soon and with it, sunshine proudly shining on Leith once more, well that only remains to be seen.

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