AFTER seeing his Hibernian team go down to their fourth consecutive defeat on Saturday, Terry Butcher could be forgiven for harbouring dreams of starting afresh next season and wanting to write off what remains of this campaign.
Instead, his intention is to concentrate very much on the here and now, and – for the time being at least – leave the work of recruiting new players to chief scout Steve Marsella.
Some of the Hibs squad are out of contract in the summer and already look unlikely to be offered new deals. Others with a year to go may still be at Easter Road for the start of next season but could find themselves surplus to requirements. Certainly, in recent matches which saw Hibs lose to Aberdeen, St Mirren and Celtic in the league before going down to Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup, few players have shown themselves worthy of a place in the manager’s long-term rebuilding plans.
But at this stage Butcher has no intention of writing off anyone, or indeed of giving up this season as a bad job. Hibs may have been booted out of the cup, but he has no intention of being frozen out of the top six. Four points behind St Johnstone, who have played a game less, Hibs have a fight on their hands to get into the upper half of the SPFL, and Butcher wants everyone on the books to play their part.
“Every player is playing for their place, regardless of whether they have a long-term contract or not,” the manager said yesterday. “The summer is a long way off for everybody. I’ll let Steve do his job regarding players coming in. The players are here now and they have to do the job.
“They have done the job since we came in and they have shown that we can be a good team and that they are good players. That’s the message that we have to get across and we have to reinforce that.
“I liked what the senior players had to say on Monday, but talk is cheap and we have to do our talking on the pitch on a Saturday. The players have to revisit the scene of the crime and get back out there at Easter Road and give it everything.”
Hibs reached the cup final in Pat Fenlon’s two seasons in charge, so have already fallen short this season. By contrast, they were seventh last year, so forcing their way into the top six would represent progress in the league.
“We need to win every one of our nine matches that we have left before the split,” Butcher continued. “We need to show that we have clear heads. When that hasn’t happened we’re not a good team, but we can be a very good team. We have shown that more often than not.
“If they had not done that before, and beat Hearts, then I would be concerned. I am not concerned. I’m just frustrated and disappointed, but I am very optimistic. I am optimistic about the next nine matches, and we want to get back out there and show that Hibs are a good team. We have nine games to go – in effect, nine cup finals with the split coming after those games. We want to be in the top six and, to do that, we have to win a lot of games and give it a right go.
“We can still salvage something from this season, which is a place in the top six. That would be a great achievement and something worth aiming for. To do that we need to be together and singing from the same hymn sheet. I don’t want our season to fade away. That’s not what we want to be about. Anybody that knows me will tell you that I drive everybody on until the end because there are football matches to be played and fans pay their money and deserve the best we can give.”
Being an optimist, Butcher is convinced his team can recover the good form they showed in his earlier games in charge, which included two wins over Ross County, the team they meet again at home on Saturday. The alternative reading of Hibs’ record since the Englishman’s arrival is that after a brief honeymoon they have reverted to type. But he is clear that that is not what has happened – nor what he will allow to happen.
“The St Mirren game [in which Hibs lost 3-2 after being three down at half-time] was a slap in the face. The Raith Rovers defeat was a kick in the nuts. It was really painful. We went on a really good run when we came in and now we’re on a really poor run. That happens at any team, but these are the same players. There have not been many times when I can say our players haven’t been bang at it. There is a lot more times that they have.
“That is an indication that they can do it. Now we have to. We need to, in order to rescue this season. I don’t believe in a honeymoon period, but without a doubt we do have to get back to what we were doing before. The players said this as well – get back to the basics of their jobs and what our responsibilities are. We want to be a tough, uncompromising team to beat, which we were.”