Terry Butcher has urged Kevin Thomson to get fit and prove what he can do on the training pitch after being heartened by news of the player’s desire to win back his place in the Hibernian midfield.
The Hibs manager dismissed rumours of a rift, just as Thomson had done 24 hours earlier. The midfielder stressed that he wants to play a part “in future rounds” of the Scottish Cup, providing Hibs can progress past Raith Rovers in this weekend’s fifth-round clash. Thomson won’t be involved tomorrow as he continues to recover from a calf strain but Butcher did not rule out a return to the team for the 29-year-old.
Indeed, he encouraged the player to look to the example of Tom Taiwo as someone who has battled his way back into the frame after seeming to be surplus to requirements. Taiwo came into the starting line-up for the first time under Butcher against Celtic just over a fortnight ago. “The door is never closed, it is always open,” pointed out the manager. “It is up to players then to push it wider.”
With specific reference to Thomson, Butcher added: “He needs to get fit first. He has not been available to play since the St Johnstone game [in December]. He has only featured in four out of my 12 games. He has to get fit and he has to get out there. And he has to get some time on the training field, first and foremost.
“I think I have shown with Tom Taiwo that it is never say never,” he added. “I will never say, ‘You will never play for this football club again’. You might say things like ‘game time will be limited because other players have come in and done well’ but it is up to players like Kevin. If he is adamant that he wants to get back into the team, then I welcome it.”
Thomson has made only two brief substitute appearances for Butcher. Speculation has been rife about why he has fallen out of favour but Thomson has insisted there is no problem between him and any member of the coaching staff, amid rumours of a bust-up with Maurice Malpas, the assistant manager. Butcher also denied this was the case. “What a load of guff,” the manager confirmed yesterday.
“Kevin is a good professional and he loves this football club,” Butcher added. “He has had some great, great times at this football club. And who is to say there cannot be great times ahead? But he has to work hard and get to the standard that I feel is right for the team, because there are some good players in his position who have done well.
“Can we put that to bed now?”
Something that can’t yet be consigned to history is the prospect of the on-loan Callum Booth returning to haunt Hibs this weekend. Because of what sounds like an oversight there is no written insertion in the agreement between Raith and Hibs specifically outlining that the full-back cannot play against his parent team should they draw each other in the cup, which is, of course, what has happened. The situation mirrors the one that caused Celtic so much grief earlier this season, when Mo Bangura, then on loan to Elfsborg, was placed in a similarly invidious position of playing against his own club in a Champions League qualifying clash. Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s plea for Bangura to be left out fell on deaf ears in Sweden. Butcher has made a similar request of Raith, although he does not expect it to be granted.
“It’s a horrible one that, I must admit,” he said. “There’s been dialogue about it but he’s played in the previous two rounds and he’s played nearly all season for them anyway.”
Butcher admitted it would be verging on “draconian” if Hibs demanded he was not picked against them. “It would be nice if Raith Rovers actually left him out of the team under these circumstances, but that’s up to them,” he added.
One comforting thought is that full-backs rarely emerge as matchwinners. However, Butcher has more reason than most to be wary of this fate-tempting observation. He watched Booth score a long-range goal against his then Inverness Caledonian Thistle side for Hibs three years ago. The strike set the Easter Road side on the way to a 2-0 win. The manager was smiling yesterday when he delivered what sounded like a good- natured warning.
“He’s got a bright future – I just hope he doesn’t unleash a 30-yard thunderbolt like he did against me before,” said Butcher. “We’ll certainly try our best to stop him. But it’s difficult. The only loser in this situation will be him, in many aspects. But he’s professional and he’ll get on with his job and do well.”
With Scott Robertson available again and Liam Craig free to play before he begins his own period of suspension, Butcher has options ahead of tomorrow, including turning to his three new loan signings. As far as Butcher can remember it, he was still half-way down the A9 when he was given his first reminder that the primary aim for a new Hibs manager is to win the Scottish Cup.
Asked when the thorny subject first came up, he said: “I don’t think I was even here! It’s some story, Hibs in the Scottish Cup . . .”