IT is universally accepted that Hibernian are a very different beast under Terry Butcher. It was certainly different, in the Englishman’s second game, watching them actually score and grind out a win – something they had failed to do in their previous five games. They also recorded their first-ever victory over Ross County, at the seventh time of asking.
Ross County 0-1 Hibs
Scorer: Handling (31)
Yet, much as Butcher was entitled to beam about how “lovely” it was to reflect on a Scottish Cup last 16 slot-earning first Dingwall success, both for the Leith club and him personally, when it comes right down to it, there is nothing very different about recent seasons in Hibs getting the job done in the country’s foremost knock-out tournament.
Heaven knows, the problems inherent in the Pat Fenlon era were manifold, but in reaching back-to-back finals, one thing the teams he sent out were unquestionably adept at was winning Scottish Cup ties.
In some respects, then, suggesting that the victory earned by Danny Handling’s second senior goal speaks loudly of the Easter Road side being revitalised is a rushed judgement. In our game, though, don’t we just love rushed judgements. And so, Butcher’s Hibs have been presented as resilient, tenacious and showing energy levels and fitness levels way beyond those exhibited at the fag-end of Fenlon’s tenure. At this juncture, it is worth making a couple of observations about their victory in Victoria Park. Their hosts, Ross County, were awful, as their manager Derek Adams openly admitted. They have now two wins in ten games. Moreover, the tie was largely terrible too, a fact that Butcher acknowledged with his concession that his team’s performance was not pretty, but effective.
None of this is offered to deny Hibs, or the Butcher and Maurice Malpas management team, credit they deserve. Handling is a player promoted by them, and he rewarded that faith with a clinical strike after scavenging from Liam Craig that was read as evidence the new Hibs are a tougher and more terrier-like animal. The captain himself could see merit in such analysis, though was keen to play-up the prowess of Hibs’ teenage forward.
“When we got the ball wide we caused them problems putting the ball in the box. It built on last week’s 0-0 draw at St Mirren when we were hard to beat. We are going to get the ball into the box and make defenders work harder than we have done – the way I win it back in the middle of the park and get the ball to Danny. He has a great future ahead of him. He’s always on the training park wanting to learn and wanting to improve.”
Butcher, Craig says, has brought a “freshness” to the club. As much as anything, his ebullience appears to have stopped Hibs players from appearing weighed down by the woes of the world. “He’s given different team talks. He’s made it quite light-hearted. A lot of people thought he might come in and start shouting at the players and maybe giving them a kick up the backside, but no, it’s been refreshing and the boys have definitely responded.
“He’s asked us a few silly questions. It’s good because it makes the players relax and so far it’s all been good, long may it continue. [It can get too serious at times], especially when results aren’t going well. When you’re winning it’s easy to be a footballer, easy to be a manager, easy to be a fan as well.
“But the good thing about this is we have stuck together and the manager wants us to stick together now and have a big push and the boys have responded in the right manner with two clean sheets from two away games. Now it’s important with Partick Thistle next week that we build on that further.”
The two major talking points from the weekend’s win was the decision of Craig Thomson to dismiss Paul Cairney for a second bookable offence in the 71st minute, having decided he had dived when through on goalkeeper Mark Brown. Craig’s view of this red-card as an injustice subsequent to watching replays, seemed pretty sound in light of the television evidence.
“I’ve asked the referee about it and he said he thought he was on the way down before there was any contact. I’ve seen it back and I think the goalie gets a touch on the ball. Cairney tries to go round him and the keeper takes him out. But obviously the referee has only got that quick decision to make. I didn’t think it was a penalty but I didn’t think it was a booking either. I think the keeper wins the ball and then brings the player down as well, so it probably should have been a corner. But fair play to the boys after that, we showed great character and limited them to very few chances. They hit the post, but, apart from that, Ben [Williams] did not had a save to make and they did not cause us too many problems.”
Ross Caldwell made a problem for himself by shrugging off Butcher and refusing to listen to any explanation for the Hibs manager’s decision to substitute him after 92 minutes, despite only having brought him off the bench 11 minutes earlier. Butcher said he “didn’t like” the challenge-to-his-authority reaction, and gave some preposterous line about the youngster being “knackered”. “He is a good player, I like him and we’ll have words on Monday and move on,” the Englishman said. As a team, Butcher appears to be moving Hibs in the right direction. But they remain a difficult watch and it is still very early days.
Referee: C Thomson