TERRY Butcher pledged last night to undertake a complete overhaul of Hibernian – if he is given the chance by his employers.
Speaking after a penalty shootout defeat by Hamilton Accies that consigned his team to playing in the Championship next season, the Hibs boss described the result as heartbreaking, and said the past two or three months in which the club has slowly slid down the league were like watching a car crash.
Hamilton, 2-0 down from the home leg on Wednesday, got back into yesterday’s tie at Easter Road with an early goal from Jason Scotland. They then equalised late into time added on at the end of the second half, and, after extra time had produced no further goals, they won the penalty contest 4-3 after their goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert saved spot-kicks from Kevin Thomson and Jason Cummings. Accies player-manager Alex Neil summed up the match perfectly when he said his own side had been desperate to win, whereas Hibs had been scared by the prospect of defeat.
Speaking as hundreds of Hibs supporters demonstrated outside the main entrance to Easter Road and chanted for himself and chairman Rod Petrie to “get tae f***”, Butcher said there was no truth in a rumour sweeping the ground before kick-off that, whatever the result, he was set to depart for non-footballing reasons. Insisting it has been obvious for some time that his club needed wholesale change in the way it operated, he said it was too early to tell how relegation after 15 years in the top flight would affect his ability – or that of any possible successor – to carry out that change.
“If it’s down to me I will be here,” Butcher said. “There was stuff on social media that I would be quitting no matter what the result was. But that was never the case. I don’t know where that came from.
“I want to continue, because I would like the opportunity to be able to restructure the club in the right way. I think that situation is out of my hands now.
“We’re due to meet the players and discuss their future,” he continued when asked what his immediate plans were. “I’ll have to speak to the chairman and see where we are on that one. It’s heartbreaking. We’re numb at the moment, and it’s a horrible, horrible feeling. It’s happened before with Caley for me as a manager, and we bounced back straight away after that. And if I’m still in charge next year, that will be the aim and ambition of the club.
“In many aspects, the club needs a whole restructure. It needs to be changed round, it needs to be improved, and it needs to be built from stronger foundations. It’s been like watching a car crash the last two or three months, and you do everything you possibly can to stop it and you just can’t. You just can’t halt the slide and you can’t halt the losses.
“Even today we’ve had opportunities to see the game out. Seventy-five seconds left and we’re 1-0 down, and I’m thinking, okay, we’ll take a 1-0 defeat, that means we stay up. But we can’t even do that.
“And then the penalties become a lottery. We miss the first penalty too. We are where we are, and it’s not because of this game, it’s because of what we haven’t done over the whole piece, really.
“I’m the manager of the football club. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to stop the slide and to have won football games – that’s my job. I haven’t done that enough. I accept the responsibility, because I’ve had opportunities to make sure that we were safe. We were going for top six a few months ago, and we couldn’t even win games after that to ensure that we didn’t get in this position.”
After the game, both Butcher and chairman Rod Petrie apologised to fans in a statement issued by the club. Butcher said: “We are devastated that our season has ended in this way, and we can only apologise to supporters for letting them down.”
Neil, who came off the bench during the second half, said his key message to his squad had been to believe that they could overcome the two-goal deficit with which they began yesterday. “Over the two legs, we were desperate to win and Hibs were terrified to lose. You can understand that being the Premiership side, because I’ve been there myself when Hamilton went down. But I thought that was the difference between the two teams over the two legs.
“I even thought we were the better side in the first game, even though we lost 2-0. We were determined to win the game while they looked terrified to lose.
“Everyone was dead on their feet towards stoppage time and it wasn’t a surprise it went to penalties. But when it did I was thinking, ‘Please, five guys put up your hands because I don’t want the pressure.’ And thankfully we had six hands going up. I said to them ‘Which out of you is not quite sure?’, but they were all sure they would score. That was great for me. I wasn’t taking the fifth one, no chance. Being player and manager and fifth penalty taker would have been too much for me. The goalie was on one before me.
“I am delighted, for the players and the fans. A lot of people wrote us off but I didn’t feel it was a 2-0 game and we played well first half. I told them to believe in themselves and to believe they could do it and once we got the first goal it changed a lot.
“It was unbelievable, but I’m more pleased for the players than I am for myself. They’ve put so much into this season and I felt we should have won the league but we didn’t. Dundee did. That was difficult to accept but this was our second chance. The effort we put in was incredible.”