SAME players, different team. Terry Butcher has not yet had a chance to make any new signings since becoming Hibernian manager, but he has nonetheless transformed the way in which his side play.
Hibs have been more solid in defence for some games now. Yesterday, they added more bite up front, beating Kilmarnock 3-0 in a display which showcased their new-found confidence.
“Right from the word go we pressed on to Kilmarnock,” Butcher said. “Every time we had a corner we looked as though we were going to score. There’s a great belief there from the players, but we wanted to score from outfield play as well.”
They did both. Paul Hanlon’s early opening goal was a header from a corner, but the second and third goals – from Paul Cairney and Lewis Stevenson – were the result of players having the confidence to look up and have a go.
“In training we encourage shots – we stop the play sometimes and say ‘Why don’t you shoot? Shoot more often’,” the manager continued.
“I think they’re starting to get round to the fact now that ‘Hang on a minute, this is quite fun. No-one’s going to give me a rollicking if I miss the target or don’t score’. The more shots you have, the more chance you’ve got of scoring. The more crosses you put in the box, the more chance you’ve got of scoring. I’ve always said if we can get more crosses in, more decent balls, we’ll score more goals.
“Lewis and Paul Cairney typified the spirit of the team. They’re not going to go past players and hit the byline – they don’t have that Alex Harris pace and trickery – but they maximise their strengths and give us really solid performances. It’s sometimes not thrill a minute, but it’s steady and it’s honest.
“The work rate from everybody today was sensational. Five clean sheets out of seven is a good base to work from, and the way we’ve been picking up points has been based on our being hard to beat. So the team is growing in confidence. They’re on the same wavelength now.”
Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston was annoyed by the early loss of what he saw as a preventable goal, but insisted his team had not deserved to lose at all – never mind by a three-goal margin.
“We knew they had scored twice from corners in their last game, so we were aware that was going to be the danger,” he said. “It was disappointing to lose such a soft goal.
“I don’t think there was much in it between the two teams. Second half, for large periods, we dominated the game. We end up getting beaten 3-0 and it looks to the neutral as though we’ve been thrashed, when there was nothing in the game.
“We know we can play a lot better. I don’t think Hibs merited a 3-0 win. They defended well – that’s where we can maybe learn from them. We take that into our game and we’ll not be far away.”