TERRY Butcher was livid after this match, understandably so given Hibernian’s hapless capitulation in the first half. In time, however, he may just regard this performance as a blessing in disguise.
Hibernian 2-3 St Mirren
Scorers: Hibernian - Collins (61, 88); St Mirren - Williams (og 4), Campbell (23), Thompson (25)
If the Hibs manager was ever unsure of the scale of rebuilding required at his new club, he knows now. If he was undecided about the suitability of some players to fit into his plans, that indecision is gone.
Butcher had made up his mind already about some, unspecified employees, having decided to name just six substitutes because, he said, none of the others who were fit and available deserved even to be on the bench. He now has compelling evidence about some of those with whom he has kept faith thus far.
There were some extenuating circumstances behind the home side’s woeful display. For one thing, St Mirren, who had lost their last three matches, played with pace and purpose. For another, Hibs, already without centre-half Paul Hanlon because of injury, were forced into a further defensive rejig with less than ten minutes gone: Ryan McGivern hobbled off with a hamstring problem, Lewis Stevenson moved from midfield to left-back and Alex Harris made an earlier than planned appearance off the bench. But by then Hibs were already a goal down, after Paul McGowan’s shot had come back off a post and rebounded into the net off the body of goalkeeper Ben Williams. And, as Michael Nelson was honest enough to admit afterwards, it was not as if the injured players had been replaced by total novices. “Losing Ryan early did have an effect,” the centre-half said. “But Lewis has played left-back often enough. You can’t make excuses.”
With Alan Maybury at right-back to allow Jordon Forster to partner Nelson, Hibs were short of pace on both wings of their defence. But their problems originated in midfield, where Scott Robertson and Liam Craig were some way off their best. Worse than those two, Paul Cairney seemed to be unaware he was on the park – which is why he did not reappear on it for the second half, making way for Sam Stanton.
Although Butcher has yet to confirm any departures, Kevin Thomson, Tom Taiwo, Rowan Vine and Tim Clancy are all on their way out. Cairney, who under Pat Fenlon played well for a spell before falling out of favour, also looks to be edging towards the exit.
Striker Ross Caldwell has been allowed to go out on loan, so his future is also in doubt. Abdellah Zoubir, who got on for the last 15 minutes, offers little of substance, while Owain Tudur Jones has been used sparingly since his old boss arrived from Caley Thistle. In fact, it might be quicker to name the players who have done enough to show they should be part of Butcher’s plans. Harris and Stanton, though perhaps not yet ready for extended runs in the team, were positive influences as Hibs fought back in the second half. Striker-cum-winger Danny Handling, who missed this one because of a foot injury, has also weighed in with some good outings.
Craig, though ineffectual here, has too much to offer to be lightly discarded. Forster has played particularly well at right-back, and Hanlon’s partnership with Nelson has impressed Butcher. Up front, Jason Cummings shows promise, and James Collins continues to improve, albeit from an unimpressive starting position.
Collectively, Hibs improved greatly in the second half, but by then their task had grown too great. Having created their first goal with a move down the left, St Mirren turned their attention to the right flank, where England Under-19 winger Adam Campbell enjoyed a productive afternoon.
Latching on to a long ball from inside his own half, Campbell beat Stevenson with pace and trickery, although at one point in the move the Hibs player seemed to have time to slide in and dispossess his opponent. Playing a neat one-two with John McGinn on the edge of the area, Campbell scored low into the far corner of Williams’s net.
St Mirren’s third two minutes later was simplicity itself. Campbell delivered from the right, and Steven Thompson headed in.
Hibs needed a power of work to get back into the match, but a Collins header from a Harris corner reduced the deficit after 61 minutes, and a second in quick succession would have rattled St Mirren. As it was, although there were only two minutes left when Collins scored his second – again from a header, this time following a Stevenson free kick – St Mirren looked very shaky as time ran out.
Hibs should have been given a chance to equalise in stoppage time when Campbell appeared to handle in the box, but referee Willie Collum was not interested. A third goal and a point would have sent the home fans home happy, but that would have papered over the cracks.
From Butcher’s point of view, it may well be preferable for those cracks to be on open display. That way he can be sure that full reconstruction, not just cosmetic tinkering, is required.
Referee: W Collum