Hibs will take to the park for this Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup tie against Hearts with virtually a completely changed starting line up to that which succumbed to their rivals in May’s Final.
The 5-1 victory for the Jambo’s that day answered more questions for Pat Fenlon than he’d probably hoped for in relation to the quality in his squad but the Irishman has proved a shrewd operator in the transfer market which has seen a dogged approach from his side in all but the opening game of the season – a 3-0 reverse to Dundee United.
Hibs line up on cup final day read : Brown, Doherty, McPake, Hanlon, Kujabi, Osborne, Claros, Stevenson, Soares, Griffiths, O’Connor.
Subs: Grant, O’Hanlon, Doyle, Sproule, Francombe
Only James McPake, Paul Hanlon, Lewis Stevenson, Jorge Claros and Leigh Griffiths remain from the starting X1 with last season’s player of the year, Stevenson virtually a permanent substitute prior to the last 4 matches which have ruled out captain McPake and saw the 24 year old start at left back with on loan Manchester City man, Ryan McGivern, partnering Paul Hanlon at the heart of the defence..
With McPake likely to be ruled out the biggest match of the season so far, gaffer Fenlon will probably start with the same side which defeated St Johnstone 1-0 in midweek – Williams, McGivern, Hanlon, Claros, Griffiths, Doyle, Cairney, Wotherspoon, Stevenson, Maybury, Taiwo.
The difference in quality between the starting line up’s barely 6 months apart is testament to the Hibees boss’ hard work behind the scenes and those who did start are almost all vastly improved.
Jorge Claros, a much lauded signing in January, had failed to make any impact on the Scottish game and after his substitution prior to half time in the final many had written him off and few would have bet on him returning to Easter Road after the close season to see out the remainder of his loan deal.
However the fact of the matter remains, had it not been for the sensational form of Leigh Griffiths so far this season, the Honduran would likely be a contender for player of the season.
Finally settled in Scotland the 26 year old has been superb for Fenlon since August and with neat touches, determined tackling and a will to win the player has won over even the most critical of fans.
Another cup final starter, Leigh Griffiths, now in his second loan spell with the club, has also progressed remarkably since May.
Always a threat but without hitting the net on a regular basis, Griffiths was possibly caught up in the malaise that engulfed the club when Fenlon originally took over from Colin Calderwood but cut from the shadow of Garry O’Connor, ‘Sparky’ has been nothing short of sensational since the start of the season.
A more mature approach has certainly helped the 22 year old who’s cut out the acts of petulance and let his football do the talking this season – all to great effect.
His maturer attitude to his all round game has not only boosted his confidence but certainly has put him in the spotlight and the striker this month got his just rewards – an international call up from interim Scotland boss Billy Stark for the friendly against Luxembourg, where he made his debut in the 70th minute.
Whilst highlighting those two from the cup final debacle, Fenlon’s shrewd eye for a player has seen two ever present’s this season, Ben Williams and Paul Cairney being warmly received by those in the stands at Easter Road.
Initial skepticism regarding the signings of players from the English third tier and the Scottish second have quickly been dispelled with both players capable of performing match winning heroics – a trait long missing from any Hibernian side.
Williams initially had a few doubters regarding his quality over cross balls but having stopped leaving his line more frequently that the 22 bus has became an inspired figure in goal.
Pivotal saves at crucial times have became his trademark, saving a St Mirren effort whilst Hibs were 1-0 behind and his penalty stop during the clash with St Johnstone which Hibs went on to win 1-0 are encouraging Hibees to claim he’s the best keeper seen at the club in years.
Cairney meanwhile has shown glimpses of quality throughout his time at the club with his uncanny ability to twist, turn and nutmeg opponents. Whilst many questioned his ability to take the step up to SPL class he’s more than proven himself and is reminiscent of a modern day John O’Neil.
Eoin Doyle is another player to have greatly improved this season.
Fenlon’s first signing for the club back in December from Sligo Rovers, the striker initially failed to adapt to the physical nature of the SPL.
A summer spent working hard on his upper body strength has saw Doyle produce some terrific performances with a work ethic akin to his manager’s beliefs.
His striking partnership with Griffiths has blossomed and there could still be more to come from the Irishman.
Fenlon will be hoping his charges show the same steel as has been obvious in the majority of matches so far this season as he looks to halt Hearts unbeaten run of 12 games in this fixture, certainly both he and the few players remaining are itching to make amends for the bleakest of bleak days on the 19th of May.