THE last thing Hibs deserve is a break, but should the relegation currents continue to drag them down and they find themselves with three weeks to wait until they play for their Premiership future, Owen Coyle believes it could well be the answer to Terry Butcher’s prayers.
Five years ago, Coyle was in charge of a Burnley team who were on their last legs, but still had the biggest game of their season to contemplate. The fact they got over the line, courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United in the play-off final that catapulted them into the big-money world of the Barclays Premier League, was down to rest, recuperation and distraction, believes Coyle.
“I have my own experience of this when I was manager of Burnley and we had played 60 games that season,” he recalls. “We then went into the play-offs and faced Reading in the semi-finals and won 1-0 at home and 2-0 away to advance to the final. At the end of the second leg, my players were out on their feet and I knew we had nothing more to give. We had two weeks to prepare before the final and we went to Val de Lobo in Portugal, as they had a pitch like Wembley and the sun was out and we gave the boys three or four days off.
“The players got their rest and all of a sudden the spark was back, and I have never been so confident going into a game as I was when we played Sheffield United in the play-off final. If we had played the play-off final three or four days after the Reading game I would have been very fearful of it. I know when players are sharp and they are at it.
“Those weeks that the Scottish Premiership team will have off at the end of the season will afford them time to get the mental side addressed and have them refreshed for the massive games that are to come.”
Coyle knows what he is talking about when it comes to play-offs. He scored the decisive goal for Dundee United that allowed them to win a play-off against Partick Thistle in May 1996. A year earlier, he had scored in the English Premier play-off final when Bolton beat Reading in extra time. Then came his managerial glory with Burnley.
Coyle tuned in to last weekend’s Edinburgh derby but, being based in England, he has been spared viewing the more spineless of Hibs’ recent performances. However, he can identify with the problems that afflict a team in freefall, and believes that Butcher and Maurice Malpas have enough experience to keep them in the top flight, whether through fending off Championship opposition at the end of May or otherwise.
“I watched the derby on Sunday, and Terry will be the first to concede that they lost soft goals. Both came from set plays and any coach would feel that they were easily avoided,” said Coyle, speaking at a McDonald’s grassroots event at Ibrox.
What they really need to do now, in their final three games, Coyle said, is to get the win which will bring back confidence, giving them energy and momentum. Hibs are the one team which doesn’t have those things at the moment but that can change quickly – all it takes is one bounce of the ball.
“People are writing them off just now but I’m sure that Terry and Maurice will be stressing to the players that they must make those critics eat their words. But there are five teams who could finish in that play-off slot. Hearts might already be relegated but they’re the team in form.
“If it hadn’t been for their points deduction they’d be sitting on 34 points as well, which would have made for an unbelievable end to the season. However, what you have to understand is that the team which finishes second bottom will not have won enough games over the course of the season whereas the team from the Championship will have a feelgood factor.
“Hamilton looked set to win that league but they suffered a bloody nose at the weekend. Now Dundee are on top but Falkirk could also still go up automatically. The teams from that division who will be in the play-offs have been used to winning in a competitive league and that’s what makes the play-offs so fascinating.”
• Owen Coyle was speaking at a grassroots heroes match held at Ibrox to promote this year’s 2014 Scottish FA and McDonald’s Grassroots Awards. Nominate your grassroots volunteer or club now for this year’s awards at mcdonalds.co.uk/awards
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.