IN THE last two seasons, Hibs have won eight of their ten matches in the Scottish Cup without needing recourse to a single replay.
That highly impressive statistic has far more relevance to their fourth-round visit to Ross County on Saturday than the club’s infamous failure to win the trophy since 1902.
That, at least, is the frame in which Terry Butcher would like to place his work this week. If anything, the Englishman faces an arduous task if supporters expect him to match or improve on the record of Pat Fenlon in this competition. The opposition for six of the eight wins Hibs achieved in those thrilling but ultimately fruitless journeys to Hampden came from the top tier of the Scottish game.
Butcher groaned yesterday when 1902 was brought up, but this acknowledgement of expectation was only a brief interlude from his default setting of refusing to be fazed by anything that awaits him in Leith. Soon he was talking about Hibs having the “DNA” of a good cup side, so why approach the most prized cup in the country with dread?
“It’s the holy grail, but you understand that,” he said. “It is a competition that we want to win and games that we want to win. It doesn’t matter what it leads to. Liam Craig has already said that he wants a Scottish Cup run and the players have already had two goes at it – with two great cup runs to get to the final. They are pretty much used to it and that is a positive fact.
“They know what it takes to get to a final and that is a massive help and I am sure the Hibs fans will go up there [to Dingwall] in their thousands. They do like a good cup run. They may not have enjoyed the finals but they have enjoyed the progression to those games. There are not that many games, compared to England, that you have to play to get to the final but they had some great occasions on their way to the final last season and the year before that.
“That is in the DNA of the players who have been here for the last couple of years, that they have done that for the last two seasons. They can probably tell me more about reaching the Scottish Cup final than I can tell them.”
Hibs have defeated Aberdeen and Kilmarnock twice, as well as Hearts and Falkirk, in this competition since the autumn of 2011 but it is arguable that Ross County might prove as tough an assignment as any of those.
Butcher growled at the line of questioning when reminded that, quite apart from Hibs having never beaten the Victoria Park side anywhere, he has never won a game in Dingwall, and has never won the Scottish Cup as player or manager.
“Anything else negative?” asked Butcher with his customary good humour. He is going to have to get used to talking about 1902, but there is refuge in the fact that scores of predecessors have tried and failed to erase Scottish football’s longest- surviving anomaly.
“It’s another football match, simple as that. Doesn’t matter what competition it’s in, it’s another football match,” said Butcher, who was nothing but pleased with last weekend’s 0-0 Premiership draw at St Mirren and the players’ pragmatic and honest appraisal – over cake, on Monday – of what they did right and where they went wrong.
“We certainly want to do well and, building on what we started last week, it’s a great game to look forward to,” he added. “It’s a beautiful pitch up there. We played half a game with Caley Thistle before it was called off, and it’s a wonderful surface, and it’s a chance for me to put Ross County out of the cup again, at the first time of asking [Inverness drew 3-3 at County in last season’s fourth round, before winning a home replay 2-1].
“That’s a fact. It’s not my opinion, it’s a fact – there are all kinds of facts going around this game,” he added. “It’s the Scottish Cup and history, and there have definitely been a lot of better managers than me who haven’t achieved it. Our aims and ambitions are to be the best in every competition we play in. Nothing changes with the Scottish Cup.”
Butcher had only been manager of Hibs for five minutes of competitive action when misfortune visited him, and he confirmed yesterday that Paul Heffernan will be out for “three or four weeks” with the thigh injury he picked up in Paisley.
On the plus side, Michael Nelson will resume after his broken cheekbone in the under-20s tonight, wearing a protective mask.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Butcher said of Heffernan. “It’s a blow, but James Collins came into the team having been disappointed he didn’t start and put in a very good performance. So sometimes a door closes and another one opens.”