IT IS little wonder that Terry Butcher was moved yesterday to make an impassioned plea for the Hibernian supporters to keep faith in his ability to transform the Edinburgh side.
Even as he rejected the suggestion that there was a danger of failing to do so and therefore trigger a deeply damaging domino effect. There is a clear necessity for the Easter Road manager to perform extensive summer surgery to his squad.
The budget to carry that out will only be forthcoming from chairman Rod Petrie if season ticket sales hold up. Yet, these are surely threatened by a form slump that already has had some lamenting it appears the same old, same old when the lot of the current coaching regime, in charge since November, is compared with the unhappy tenures of recent incumbents.
After only one win in their past ten league games – a period during which they exited the Scottish Cup at home to second tier Raith Rovers – Hibs require to avoid defeat to St Johnstone tomorrow to prevent the club being condemned to bottom-six status in the top flight for the fourth consecutive season. That would hardly serve as a sales pitch for season tickets, but Butcher would petition that the club’s support judge what he could develop at the club next season by the team he constructed at the Caledonian Stadium over the past two years.
“Are the punters saying it’s the same old, same old? I don’t hear what they say. I only hear them at weekends,” Butcher stated. “But I am trying to do the best job I can here. If that means making changes now then I’ll make changes now because I want to get a winning team. I’m not concerned about the summer and how many changes we make and who comes in.
“Yes, I’m concerned that we want to get season-tickets sales. It will be a new beginning for us. And I’m saying to the fans: ‘have faith and stick with us because we have done it before.’
“We have turned teams around, we have built teams from scratch. We made a lot of changes at Caley and produced a team that consistently beats Hibs, or has in the past, and who will be in the top six again this year for the second year on the trot.
“There are loads of things I could say to the Hibs fans to tell them to keep the faith and have faith in what we want to achieve.
“It was always going to be this way in terms of working with players who were already here because we couldn’t bring a lot of players in the last window. But we have a budget to work to and we will certainly use that to the best of our ability in terms of getting the right players in.
“It will be new and it will be different next year and it’s hard sometimes to ask the punters to buy season tickets when they don’t know who is coming in. But I can assure them there will be quality and there will be good players coming into this football club.
“The Hibs fans have been great with me. They are as frustrated as I am, if not more frustrated than I am. Perhaps we should be called Hibernian Frustration Club as opposed to Hibernian Football Club. We are what we are and we obviously have to improve that.
“We will improve in the summer. But we will also be trying to improve in every game. I’m not concerned, because I can only do what I can at this moment in time in terms of trying to get a winning team out there. We can do a lot more in the summer, but that’s the summer. What we are concerned about is winning on Saturday.”
In the aftermath of the dispiriting 3-1 defeat away to Partick Thistle last Saturday, Butcher said he would consider pitching in a pool of youngsters for the club’s Perth assignment. At the club’s training ground yesterday, he seemed to step back from such a course of action.
“There definitely will be changes to the team, and we’ll wait and see how many changes,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t know [if youngsters are ready] until you throw them in but it’s a tall order in this situation, I think, when it gets to a match like this and it’s pretty clear what we have to do. Then, probably, you look at more experienced heads.
“Sometimes you say things after a game in an effort to try and stimulate a bit of a reaction from players.
“In the monsoon and windy conditions we’ve had this week it’s sometimes difficult to see with the players exactly how much of a reaction there has been. But, knowing these players, as I do in a short space of time, and knowing what we have to do, it’s about picking the right team and the right blend. Whether that’s young or old, whether that’s a different shape or whether its different personnel remains to be seen. But I expect a good reaction and I’m confident I’ll get one.”
Just where Butcher draws that confidence from will be a mystery to the club’s followers who have known the foibles of the current squad for all too long.