LAST week Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was asked by a TV reporter if he knew what was meant by squeaky-bum time.
f course, he said. The match against Chelsea, when City fell behind, was such a moment for him. And then for everyone’s amusement he said squeaky-bum time in an Italian accent, which of course made it sound lovely and lyrical compared with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Ahcomfigovan accent. But squeaky-bum time is used exclusively in a championship-chasing context. What is the equivalent for the relegation-threatened and do you think Hibs are experiencing it yet?
Let’s see, they lose a derby and pretty meekly at that. Jim Jefferies is an interested spectator and decides afterwards to say “Yes” to the Dunfermline job (the full text of his acceptance reading: “I’ve seen Hibs and they’re not so far ahead of us or not playing so much, ahem, flair-football that they can’t be force-fed East End Park steak bridies justly famed for their ballast qualities and tossed into the Forth from a Fife Loop train”). Meanwhile, at the next Hibs training session the mood gets a little heated. You could say, although only allege it, that heads were knocked together. And yet after the dust settles the players are slow to trot out the trusty line: “This kind of thing only shows that the team cares.” To me, all of this suggests Hibs are already being unnerved by Jefferies, that they can feel his hot, bridie-scented breath on their shoulder. Yes, whatever is the SPL basement’s alternative to SBT, the Hibees are afflicted. Or they should be.
For, when the general wisdom about the derby is that Hearts “wanted it more”, you have to surmise that Hibs are in deep trouble. Look at the respective teams. Hearts are safely ensconced in the top six. They’re unlikely to achieve third and so were only (only!) playing for pride. With a tricky Scottish Cup replay at St Mirren Park three days later, you would have thought they might have held something back, not quite performing in their usual blood-and-thunder derby manner. And yet Hibs, whose need for three points was plainly more urgent, could not match their city rivals in the desire department, never mind better them.
No wonder Jimbo said: “Pass the brown sauce, it complements a bridie so well, don’t you think?”
On Thursday, after Hearts had got through their replay, I was struck by a photograph in The Scotsman of Craig Beattie appearing to batter three St Mirren players and his own team-mate Andy Webster out of the way to make a clearance. His eyes are shut, those big thigh muscles are stretched and so what if he ended up bursting the ball? He’s clearly bought into the Hearts project after just a handful of games. Then I thought – this is a stramash, it’s ugly and I don’t think I like it. But when do you ever see Hibs players snapped in such a situation and isn’t it about time they were?
Who goes down is almost the only live issue remaining in the SPL this season and, with Jefferies’ intervention – he was beaten 7-0 by Hibs as a player, don’t forget, and 6-2 as a manager – it’s just got a whole lot more interesting.
Omens? The last time Hibs got to the Scottish Cup semi-finals and ended up being relegated was 1979-80 when, en route to Hampden, they won 2-0 at Ayr, just like this season. The Cup, viewed by some as a welcome distraction, could become positively distracting.
The Hibs of 32 years ago were a funny mix – Ally Brazil, a uni graduate (Colin Campbell) and George Best. But no more so than the current bunch of loan deals, just-passing-through types and others who might have struggled to place Hibs on the football map before pitching up in Leith.
That’s not their fault, of course, but, fairly recently, it was the Hearts personnel who knew nothing about the derby and now it’s Hibs and it shows.
Derbies are worth the same three points as any other game, of course, but beggars can’t be choosers about how they get their wins – not when you’re second from bottom and the team below you just recruited a SPL old hand with a big Hibs grudge.
The relegation-zone equivalent of squeaky-bum time?
It’s steak-bridie time.