HOW deep does the rot go at Easter Road? Pretty deep, according to Terry Butcher, who again exonerated only two of his players – one of them a loan signing – after this latest hapless defeat.
Partick Thistle 3-1 Hibernian
Scorers: Partick Thistle - Erskine (43), Mair (59), Higginbotham (90); Hibernian - Watmore (62)
How can that rot be eradicated for good? Butcher’s immediate predecessors as Hibernian manager tried to find the answer to that one, but themselves became part of the problem.
In the coming weeks there is little the incumbent can do but muddle through with the resources he has, which should be just about good enough to steer his team clear of the play-off place. In the longer term, he will commit himself to a ruthless reconstruction of his squad.
Sam Stanton and the on-loan Duncan Watmore were the pair to escape their boss’s wrath on Saturday. Of the others who played, a couple such as defender Jordon Forster and attacker Jason Cummings are worth persevering with, while midfielder Alex Harris, dropped after losing form following injury, also has a prominent role to play next season. But that still leaves a lot of dead wood to deal with. Men who are either not good enough for the level to which Hibs aspire, or who have succumbed to the creeping defeatism that seems to seep into the pores of Hibs players within weeks of joining the club.
The change of personnel can begin this summer. But a lasting change in culture will take far longer to bring about, and until it is firmly established, we can expect more days like this.
Things actually began fairly well for Hibs, and afterwards Partick Thistle manager Alan Archibald accepted they had controlled the first half. But crucially, it was the home team who went into the break ahead, after Kallum Higginbotham did the damage down the right before Chris Erskine shot home from just inside the box.
Higginbotham showed he can be just as dangerous with a dead ball as he is from open play when he laid on his team’s second for Lee Mair. The Englishman delivered a deep free kick from the left and Mair easily outjumped Ryan McGivern at the far post to head past Ben Williams.
Thistle have frailties of their own, as was evident when Hibs pulled a goal back all too easily three minutes later. A run into the box by Stanton had the home defence in disarray, and Watmore converted the cutback from 15 yards.
Twenty minutes later Stephen O’Donnell nearly put through his own goal after a cross bounced awkwardly off his shin, but Paul Gallacher pulled off an excellent instinctive save. Thistle lived dangerously from then until the last minutes of normal time, when they conceded a series of corners. It was less of a storm that they had to weather and more of a squally shower, but weather it they did, and Higginbotham finally ensured victory with a fine individual goal in stoppage time. Thistle are now two points clear of the play-off place, but as long as they maintain this standard they will have a good chance of staying out of danger. They could have done without Ross County also winning against St Johnstone, although that teatime result was the best news of the day for Hibs, who travel to Perth on Saturday with the aim of keeping their top-six hopes alive.
“Every game is important now,” Watmore said. “We haven’t given up. It’s a tall order now, but St Johnstone is the team we have to overtake to get there and if we beat them next weekend it’s one big step.”
That result would still leave Hibs a point behind with two more games to play before the split – one fewer than St Johnstone.
Getting into the upper half of the table is a tall order for a team who have now won just one game out of their last ten in the league, but if they all had Watmore’s positive attitude they might well have got there by now.
“If we win every game now, there’s a great chance we’ll give ourselves a chance of the top six,” he continued. “It’s so frustrating, because we had chances to score here.
“I’m not making excuses, because we know we weren’t good enough, but we need to get our confidence back and the goals will come. We know our ability and know we’re good enough to win games.” Watmore is certainly good enough; so is Stanton. The rest still need to prove that they are – not only to have a hope of overtaking St Johnstone, but to persuade Butcher they should be part of his plans beyond this season.