Craig Thomson should not interpret the lack of a visit to his dressing-room from Terry Butcher as a sign that the Hibs manager was happy with his performance after yesterday’s 4-0 defeat to Celtic.
Butcher was quietly seething after the loss that he reckoned hinged on a decision by Thomson to penalise defender Michael Nelson for handball with the score still delicately poised at 1-0 to the champions. The fact that Virgil van Dijk still had much to do to score from the resultant free-kick 25 yards out did not placate Butcher, who rued the inconsistency of Scottish officials, Thomson in particular.
The Hibs manager added that it was a “waste of time” asking to see the referee afterwards. “I don’t want to speak to Craig Thomson about this,” he said. “If I really say what I think about the referee’s performance then I would be in trouble with [SFA compliance officer] Mr Lunny so I’m not going to go there.
“In my opinion, the handball was bizarre because I don’t know anyone who can control a ball hit at that pace with his hand. It wasn’t a deliberate handball. We’ve been penalised in the harshest way.
“It’s waste of time calling [SFA head of referees] John Fleming,” he added. “A waste of time.”
Butcher pointed out that Hibs escaped conceding a penalty just over a fortnight ago against Aberdeen when Thomson judged Nelson’s handball in the box to be unavoidable after Peter Pawlett flicked a cross against his arm. Yesterday, however, Thomson was quick to penalise the same player after Teemu Pukki’s attempted pass struck Nelson’s hand.
“That free-kick was bizarre,” said Butcher. “The same referee didn’t give a handball against the same player for the same incident at Aberdeen. And then we have a handball by a St Mirren player at the game last week which is not given.
“The ref said he cautioned Michael because he stopped the ball going through to an opponent. But if you look at the Aberdeen game with the same referee, same player, same incident, he doesn’t give a free-kick or a penalty.
“Last week Willie Collum – when the St Mirren player handles the ball not once but twice – he gives nothing, yet today’s referee would say that should be a penalty. I don’t know what the rules are and how the refs interpret that. We’re bitterly disappointed given the efforts put in.”
One bright spot was the performance of Sam Stanton, who was making his full debut for the Easter Road side. He might have had a goal to show for his eye-catching display but for a superb save from Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster after 66 minutes.
Stanton admitted he was nearly in the process of running towards the fans in delight before Forster broke his heart with a stop that was the defining moment of the game.
“I thought it was in,” said Stanton. “I was almost away celebrating. But it was a brilliant save.
“I couldn’t believe I had hit it so well and I was dreaming about it hitting the back of the net but unfortunately that never happened.
“It’s difficult,” he added. “You work hard to get these opportunities and hit decent strikes but he keeps saving them over and over again and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s difficult to say whether any other keeper in the league would have made that save.
“There are a lot of good goalies at the other sides. But he is a top class keeper, there’s no doubt about that.
“It was a brilliant learning curve out there,” he added, with reference to his first start almost two years after he made his first appearance as a substitute against Rangers. “I really enjoyed it and I hope there are many more games to come.
“Losing 4-0 was difficult to take but that’s football and it’s why they are one of the best teams around. They took their chances and we never.
“I thought for 70-75 minutes we were well in the game and, if one of those shots had gone in, we’d have had a chance. But unfortunately it wasn’t the case.”