TERRY Butcher couldn’t do a thing today about the big bogey that hangs over Hibernian like a permanent rain cloud. But, in drawing a defiant and ultimately decisive performance from his team, the Leith club’s new manager succeeded in exorcising a few hoodoos as well as claiming a precious place in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup.
Scorer: Handling 31
A first win for Hibs in seven attempts against the Dingwall side, it was also the Easter Road men’s first victory in six games as well as Butcher’s first success at the ground he had visited with Highland neighbours six times previously. No wonder the Englishman was doing all sorts of manic, what can only be described as, air-weight-lifting celebrations at full-time, as he demanded, and received, “oles” from the visiting fans – who numbered almost half the 2,213 crowd – time and again. Butcher arrived as Hibs manager, and it was Danny Handling, a player he had immediately identified as worthy of promotion to the senior side in his first game in charge a week ago, who delivered him there with a first Hibs goal in 553 minutes.
“It is a lovely feeling for me,” Butcher said of the outcome. “All week everyone has been telling me you have done this, and you haven’t done that, well I have now. It is another small step. It wasn’t pretty, but effective.”
Effective on a day that they were reduced to ten men 19 minutes from time after Paul Cairney was shown a second yellow after being adjudged by Craig Thomson to have thrown himself to the ground to win a penalty when keeper Mark Brown dived at his feet. Butcher called the decision “extremely harsh”, petitioning that only the call was either “a goal kick or penalty – and that’s it”. “We had to be resilient going down to ten men and what they’ve shown me today is another first in showing me how strong they are and together they are. They showed their fitness levels last week and showed today when they pass it they are not a bad side. These are all different qualities we didn’t know they had.”
Home keeper Brown considered that Cairney had shown a side unwelcome in the game in the incident that brought his dismissal. “I came out to spread myself and basically he tried to run in to me for a penalty,” he said. “I’ve not moved towards him. He clipped my foot. I spoke to the referee and he said he was diving before he came to me. They have directives to follow and I couldn’t get out of the road.”
County, as their manager Derek Adams was honest to admit, were “poor throughout”, but so was their luck. Maybe what Butcher has also brought with him to Hibs is an element of good fortune. That was certainly the case in County being unable to obtain a man advantage from Cairney’s exit as a result of substitute Steven Saunders being forced off with a hamstring pull in the 82nd minute – a setback that came after the home side had been forced to use their other replacements because of earlier injuries to Branislav Micic and Rocco Quinn. It wasn’t all that County were left to rue across the afternoon. On the hour, Marc Luckassen came within the width of the upright of snatching an equaliser for the home side, his thumping header from a Graham Carey left wing cross rattling the frame. Yet, Adams did not seek to varnish the truth laid bare by the encounter.
“Over the 90 minutes we didn’t deserve to go through in the cup-tie,” he said. “There was no cohesion in the team, and it was a lacklustre performance. There weren’t many chances and it won’t make great viewing on the highlights programme. Our decision-making, our passing and the way we played were not good enough. I thought we might be up and at ’em when they were down to ten men but we didn’t create enough.”
The inability of both sides to engineer genuine openings was less a comment on the sturdiness of the two defences – even if Hibs definitely seem more obdurate with the Jordon Forster and Paul Hanlon centre-back pairing as coached by Butcher and assistant Maurice Malpas – than their shortcomings in attack. Here were two sides, after all, that had posted only two victories in their previous nine outings. Hibs were more energetic and enterprising, and so were worthy of their opener which came when Liam Craig won the ball in the centre of the park, and slipped it through to Handling, who showed composure and accuracy to plant a shot low to Brown’s left for his second senior goal for the club.
It was a demonstration of the neccessary “tenacity”, Butcher remarked afterwards. The Hibs manager wasn’t thrilled about the fighting spirit shown by all his players
during the afternoon. Having appeared as a 79th-minute substitute, Ross Caldwell was then himself hauled off in the 92nd minute. He aggressively shrugged off Butcher’s attempts to explain himself as the player made his way up the tunnel.
“I didn’t like what he did there,” he said. “There were words in the dressing room and there will be action taken. I very rarely substitute a substitute and I don’t like doing it, but he looked knackered while James Collins seemed to find reservours of energy from somewhere. We think he is a good player and we will talk about it on Monday.”