TERRY Butcher keeps saying it but his players don’t seem to be taking any heed. “I don’t like being let down,” he seethed after his players were out-played and out-fought by a Partick Thistle side who are edging further away from the play-off spot.
SCORERS: Partick Thistle: Erskine 43′ Mair 60′ Higginbotham 90′; Hibs: Watmore 62′
Only two players gave him any solace in a game which turned on a goal that should have been avoided.
Suggesting that his players were drawing straws for the task of gifting soft goals, the Hibs manager said only youngsters Sam Stanton and Duncan Watmore could be considered any kind of positive.
“It will be an interesting team selection next week,” said Butcher, whose side next face up to St Johnstone in a game they really must win if they are to keep their slim hopes of a top-six finish alive.
“I would rather go with kids and lose… at least they are honest,” Butcher added. “The two lads were excellent for us and tried their socks off and they are being let down by the others.
“We pushed Sam out wide left to have a go at the full-back and he got into a good position for the goal but I need three or four Sam Stantons and I haven’t got that and I need three or four Duncan Watmores in the team but I haven’t got that. They are game boys and if I can take any comfort from the game and there’s not much – then those two would provide it.” The pair combined for Hibs’ only goal of the game and it may have been the springboard to something better had it not then been for a
terrific reflex save from Thistle keeper Paul Gallacher with eight minutes to go.
Having taken a justifiable lead just before the interval, when Chris Erskine bulleted a shot in to the left-hand corner of Ben Williams’ goal, the home side extended the lead in the 59th minute.
It was that second goal that enraged Butcher but while he will, quite rightly, bemoan the sloppy defending which allowed Lee Mair the opportunity to glance his header home at the back post, credit has to go to the Firhill side. A very positive, attack-minded line-up from manager Alan Archibald was bolstered by the inclusion of Kris Doolan.
Add Erskine, Lyle Taylor and Kallum Higginbotham into the mix and Hibs were left struggling to contain them for long periods in the game. It was the latter, though, who left them in the biggest turmoil. Pacey and direct, he gloried in running at the visitors’ rearguard and it was his inch perfect delivery that picked out Mair for the crucial second goal.
“With his ability he creates goals and he scores goals and he’s the difference for us,” said Mair. “On the top of his game, he can change things. He is high on confidence and helps win us games.”
Hibs came back at them three minute later when Stanton’s skill played in Watmore, who placed the ball into the bottom corner from inside the penalty area and the guests did have sustained spell of pressure as they sought out a second goal.
But Thistle’s ability to withstand that was as pleasing to their manager as any of the goals. Even when Hibs fired in one corner after another and penned the Firhill side into their own area, they always managed to clear.
And, if Higginbotham’s deliveries from both flanks are impressive, once he gets into his stride, he can take it to the byeline or cut inside and he did just that in the time added on at the end of the game. With Hibs chasing the equaliser, he burst forward on the breakaway and cut inside two defenders and rounded the keeper before calmly slotting the ball into the net. “Him running at you is what you don’t want,” said Mair. “Believe me, I get it in training every day! [In] the second half he really showed what he can do and he has the ability to go to the top.
“He has everything and if he knuckles down and gets on with it for another year here then I think he could get his big move and I won’t be surprised if he does.”
But it isn’t just the striker who looks to have a brighter future ahead of him. His side remain in the battle to avoid second bottom place and a play-off spot and if they can continue to produce this level of performance they should steer clear.
But, while St Mirren dropped points, Mair said the players were content that their fate is in their own hands.
“We are not really looking at the other results. We are just focusing on our fixtures, we have nine games left and they are nine winnable games. We are confident. In the eight
games since I have been here not one team has out-played us and that’s seven points from the last three games.”