TERRY Butcher may be new to the job but he has already tapped into what the Hibs fans want and he is working his way through the list.
“If you show the crowd the team has a passion, a desire to play for the jersey then that’s what they want to see,” he said in the wake of delivering a victory in his first Edinburgh derby. “Well, they also want to beat Hearts and win a Scottish Cup. So that’s one of them so far, so that’s not too bad!
“They want to see a bit of honesty – from me and players. I’m not saying they never got that before but it’s honesty, passion and an attitude that’s got a bit of direction now. We are saying, ‘well, this is how we’re going to play, what we’re going to do’ and some of the football was terrific. Some of the stuff in the final third isn’t there yet but, if it does click, wow, we’ll be scoring goals for fun.”
There was certainly more positivity in the match against Hearts and the determination to score was evident in the willingness of every Hibs player to shoot on sight. There were over 20 attempts at goal in the 2-1 win over Hearts and, if they can get more of them on target, then the manager may be right.
To aid in that ambition Butcher is already working to rejig his squad, with signings anticipated this month and even more reinforcements expected in the summer. Despite casting his net for new recruits he is encouraged by the improvement in several of those players he inherited from Pat Fenlon.
“We have plans in place but they’re not quite coming to fruition yet because managers we’ve spoken to have got the sack or players are coming in and scoring goals or players are injured,” explained Butcher of his transfer targets. “We’re making good progress but we are still waiting on players coming in.
“But I’m delighted with the players we’ve got here. I’m demanding more from them with every game, every training session and they are doing themselves a great deal of justice. There is a great foundation to build on here with the team and the club itself and the [derby] result does buy you a bit of time in the short term but it’s a great run we’re on and being in the top six is the icing on the cake in terms of the second period.”
Thursday night’s win leaves Hibs just five points behind this afternoon’s opponents Dundee United, meaning that the European place Butcher had set aside as a target for next season may still be achievable this term.
“In a year’s time what I’m looking for is a team pushing for the European places, pushing the top sides, trying to finish as high as we can,” said Butcher. “We have a good platform to build on. We’ll try to bring a few players in in January then bring in a lot more in the summer to give us a pre-season working with the players.”
The success over Hearts illustrated the squad’s improved mental capacity for a scrap and made it three league wins on the bounce as well as elevating Hibs into the top six.
“We haven’t done a lot,” argues Butcher. “We’ve done some work in terms of forgetting about the past, forgetting about the defeats to Hearts, the Malmo game and those kind of things. They are part of history now. The players are stronger mentally and stronger physically too. They are very fit but they can play, too. And the confidence that’s been built through winning certainly helps them to perform better. Lewis [Stevenson] was man of the match [against Hearts], terrific and unbelievable considering he’s been played in every position. He’s playing in his natural position now and enjoying it. That’s the most important thing. With these boys here, they would play anywhere. But it’s certainly nice when you are playing in your natural position and it’s nice when the manager has got faith in you and those out of the team have got to work very hard to get in there. The competition for places is terrific and, with [Paul] Heffernan coming back, that certainly adds to that up front.”
But he is not settling for what he has. Not with the transfer window open and with chairman Rod Petrie willing to support him.
“The chairman backs his manager, there’s no doubt about that,” says Butcher. “We haven’t really discussed a lot of finance. But he’s said that, if we get a player I like, then he’ll get him in. I’ll ask when it’s right but I won’t bring players in here who aren’t any better than what we’ve got. We’ll want to add quality rather than quantity in the short term but, in the long term, we will change things round a little bit more.”