The sociable Terry Butcher does not have to wait until after Premiership matches in order to catch up with opposing managers over the glass of wine he tends to offer.
Instead, the Hibernian manager needs only head to Under-21 fixtures in England, where he can expect to be sitting next to some familiar faces in the complimentary seats.
Butcher’s determination to make the most of the January transfer window led him on Monday evening to Sunderland, where he once endured a turbulent spell as manager in the early 1990s. “I was treated very well,” reported Butcher on his return to East Mains yesterday. “I normally get booed!”
Perhaps the only ones likely to hand him a hostile reception were his fellow Scottish football club representatives, as a host of managers compete with each other to unearth what Butcher described as the “real gem” in January. The Hibs manager suspects that he and his Scottish rivals are in the hunt for the same players.
“I didn’t expect to see so many familiar faces last night at Sunderland,” said Butcher. “They all want a striker, they want players that can score goals because goals win games and give everyone a lift.”
Joining Butcher at Sunderland were Allan Johnston, the Kilmarnock manager, and Tommy Craig, the assistant manager at St Mirren, as well as Partick Thistle assistant Scott Paterson and Dundee director of football, Archie Knox. In their sights were likely to have been the Sunderland forwards Craig Lynch, Duncan Watmore and Charis Mavrias, all of whom played in Monday night’s 1-1 draw with Stoke City. Indeed, Lynch opened the scoring after 40 seconds.
It isn’t just Scots who are in the hunt; the match was also watched by Carlisle manager Graham Kavanagh and the Hartlepool United management duo of Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett.
Butcher did admit to being impressed by the Stoke City striker James Alabi, who scored his side’s equaliser. However, after further investigations this interest in the former Celtic youth player was very quickly nipped in the bud; Alabi, it turns out, has already been out on loan twice this season – at Mansfield Town and Forest Green Rovers. This means he is prohibited from joining another side on a temporary basis due to Fifa rules.
Butcher has confirmed interest in one player, although he was a long way from Sunderland on Monday night. Inverness Caledonian midfielder James Vincent is someone he admits he would be interested in working with again. Vincent has not played since fracturing his tibia in Inverness’s 3-0 win over Hibs in September, and having joined the Highlands club on a one-year deal from Kidderminster Harriers, is now free to talk to other clubs again. Butcher said he would “monitor” this situation. “That’s more towards the summer we’d be looking at doing things like that.”
Butcher was far happier yesterday confirming players he was not interested in signing. Jason Scotland, the former Dundee United striker now at Barnsley, has been linked with Hibs, while Rangers midfielder/striker Dean Shiels has also been mentioned in connection with a move back to Hibs. Butcher was adamant that neither is bound for Easter Road. However, he did concede that he has spoken with Scotland’s agent. “I spoke to his agent yesterday and said ‘no, we wouldn’t be pursuing it’,” he said. “The next thing I read is that we’re keen on doing it. That won’t happen.” As for Shiels, he added: “No. I’ve not spoken to his agent – but we wouldn’t be interested in that.”
Hibs are well served by wide players like Shiels, particularly now Alex Harris has returned from injury and the return to prominence of Paul Cairney. “We’re looking at other areas of the team to try to strengthen first and foremost,” he said.
“We’re working hard. It’s still early days in January, nothing normally falls into place until the latter part.
“Defensively we’re pretty strong,” he added. “Going forward and scoring goals is something we want to improve upon. There, that narrows it down for you!”
Butcher has been delighted by the reaction of the players to Friday night’s 1-0 defeat by Aberdeen, after which he lost his temper with them for the first time. “There were a few things booted around,” he recalled. “Tam McCourt, the kitman, now knows what to leave out and what not to leave out. Yes, I was a bit angry. Sometimes the players need to know I can be a bit angry and demonstrative. But that’s the first time in ten games – not bad really. They have responded very well. Obviously I was not here yesterday but Maurice [Malpas] said it was very good and today was good as well.”
He described the loss as a “slap in the face for everyone” at the club, after the recent improvement in performances.
“We didn’t carry a threat,” Butcher lamented. “We have been scoring freely from open play and set plays. When you only have one corner that tells you we have not applied the pressure as we have done in the past. Sometimes you can get fluky corners. We never even got a fluky corner.” Butcher insisted he would have reacted the same way even had Hibs won a point.
“But let’s not get carried away, it was an instant reaction from me, and it’s done and dusted,” Butcher added, before looking forward to this weekend’s return to Easter Road to play St Mirren. “The most pleasing aspect is that we are now really looking forward and anticipating playing at Easter Road again – that’s a difference from what it has been,” he said. “It is a real thrill to be playing there again. We have won the last two games there and won well, so the target is three points against St Mirren.”