HIBERNIAN manager Terry Butcher admitted he gambled with Hibs’ top flight safety by naming Jason Cummings in his starting line-up for last night’s Premiership play-off final, first leg against Hamilton Accies.
His punt on the 18-year-old striker, who had not scored in any of his 16 previous first-team outings for Hibs, paid off spectacularly as Cummings scored both goals in a precious 2-0 win at New Douglas Park.
The win gives Butcher’s team a significant advantage ahead of Sunday’s second leg at Easter Road as they look to avoid relegation from the top flight of Scottish football for the first time in 16 years.
“Playing Jason was a gamble in many ways,” said Butcher. “He hadn’t scored for the first team before, although he has played well and had been in a winning team before at least. But I was pinning my faith and hopes on someone who has scored a hatful of goals for our under-20 side but never done it at the top level.
“So great credit to him for coming up with two goals like he did. He’s a good prospect and a confident boy. He has to be confident, wearing the kind of gear he does. It’s outrageous some of it, a joke. If he was my son, I’d give him a skelp for wearing it!”.
Despite his obvious relief at Hibs’ first win in 14 matches, Butcher was at pains to stress that his players still have work to do to finish their survival job.
“I know Hamilton will say it’s definitely not over and I’ll say the same thing,” he added.
“There is still a lot of work to be done on Sunday. We’ll need to have the same focus, desire and attitude that we had tonight.Hamilton are a good quality side, they passed the ball well at times tonight and caused us problems. Ben Williams had to make a couple of good saves. Hamilton have nothing to lose and are enjoying a crack at a Premiership team.
“It is very pleasing to win tonight, though. It was a strange feeling at half-time, because we have not been used to leading 1-0 recently. It was total disbelief in some ways. But it was a lovely feeling, one we’ve not had for a long time.
“It has been hard for us since losing to Kilmarnock on the last day of the regulation season. We had to get over that disappointment and I have to say the attitude and character of the players has been spot-on. We spoke on the Monday after about the position we were in and what we had to do.
“It wasn’t a fluent performance from us tonight but there was a lot of steel and togetherness there. Bad runs do come to an end, just as good runs do.
“Our fans were happy after the game and seeing that was brilliant. That’s what we always want to do, send them away happy – and the only way to do that is by scoring goals and winning games.”
Accies player-boss Alex Neil, who chose to remain an unused substitute last night, felt his team had missed out on a good opportunity to put Hibs under real pressure in the tie.
“My over-riding emotions are frustration and disappointment,” said Neil.
“In terms of our performance, I thought we were the dominant side in the first half. We created some good opportunities, then found ourselves 1-0 down to Hibs’ first effort on target. “The way we lost the goal was disappointing – no-one pressed the lad Cummings on the ball although, to be fair, he’s hit it well from distance.
“We started the second half reasonably well but our quality in the final third of the pitch was lacking tonight, which isn’t like us. We are normally good going forward.
“It is going to be difficult for us now to win the tie. We will need to perform as well as we did in the first half but make sure we take any opportunities that come our way. We had five or six good chances tonight but didn’t take them. An early goal would obviously be key for us and that’s what we’ll try and get on Sunday.”