TERRY Butcher surely needs no reminder of the state Hibernian are in at present, but just in case, his prospective playing squad gave him one anyway.
Hibernian 0-2 Inverness CT
Scorers: Inverness CT - Ross (pen 14), McKay (18)
Referee: B Madden
It was another painful afternoon for the home supporters in the smallest league crowd of the season at Easter Road, as their team turned in a performance devoid of confidence and cohesion.
That run of nine games in which they lost just once feels a long way off now, though in fact it only ended late last month. Since then they have lost four matches without scoring a single goal, becoming less of a threat by the game.
At least against Motherwell last week they created several decent chances, as they had done in the early stages of their League Cup defeat by Hearts; here, an off-target header from Jordon Forster in the first half was the closest they came to scoring, while Caley Thistle could easily have had four or five. The only consolation for the prospective Hibs manager is that the problems in the team are obvious, which means that, in theory at least, a solution should not be hard to find. Judged individually, this squad are a more able lot than the squad Pat Fenlon inherited two years ago, but they are very low on self-belief, and are crying out for the kind of on-field leadership that Richie Foran brings to Inverness.
Hibs are a better team when Michael Nelson and Liam Craig are playing – the defender and midfielder were out injured and suspended respectively on Saturday – and while severe doubts remain about Rowan Vine and James Collins, other Fenlon signings such as Scott Robertson and Paul Heffernan have fitted in well. True, Heffernan, like his team, has faded in recent weeks after a bright start, but he and others have too much innate ability to play this poorly for long.
Granted, there have been so many times over the past few years that Hibs have promised to make a sustained improvement only to revert to their old feckless ways, so progress is far from guaranteed. But Butcher is a far bigger, stronger and more inspiring character than his last few predecessors at Easter Road – that much is plain to see from the way in which his present club perform on the park.
This win, which took Caley Thistle back up to second in the Premiership, was all done and dusted in the first 20 minutes. The only question for the remaining 70 was how embarrassing the final score would be for Hibs.
The home team actually made a reasonable start, putting pressure on a shaky Dean Brill in the Caley Thistle goal, but the penalty dispelled any optimism they harboured. Tracking back into his own box, Collins clumsily pushed Andrew Shinnie, and Nick Ross delivered a well-struck spot-kick high into Ben Williams’ net.
“Butcher, Butcher, what’s the score?” the away fans sang as their manager sat impassively in the main stand, and they were singing it again minutes later when their team went two up.
An excellent passing move which demonstrated Inverness’s superior pace and technique ended with Billy McKay skipping round Williams and scoring from a narrow angle on the right.
Ryan McGivern could have brought the league’s top scorer down just before he went past the goalkeeper, but wisely refrained from doing so. A sending-off at that point would have left Hibs in such a weak position that they would surely have been shredded by their opponents.
As it was, the home side could do little more than limit the damage thereafter. Before 30 minutes had been played, Alan Maybury did extremely well to deny Caley Thistle a third, cutting out a pass to McKay at the back post. The full-back was fortunate to see the ball bounce back off the near post and out, but it was the sort of bravery that merited a spot of luck.
Williams then saved with his feet from McKay, and Aaron Doran shot wide from a good position as Inverness began to create chances at will. Vine and Abdellah Zoubir came on for the second half, but neither was able to spark anything like a revival in Hibs.
Instead, Caley Thistle continued to control the game, and kept pressing for more goals right up to the end.
With ten minutes left, a penalty should have been awarded against Maybury for a tug on Ross. Then, in stoppage time, a more legitimate piece of defending by Paul Hanlon denied McKay, the defender’s block tackle preventing what would have been a tap-in for the prolific striker.