TERRY Butcher is hopeful the age-old practice of pinning stories to the dressing room wall will work to Hibernian’s advantage for the first leg of their Premiership play-off final against Hamilton Accies on Wednesday night.
The Hibs manager is perhaps conscious of how his own words were interpreted by opponents Kilmarnock when the teams met 11 days ago in a last-day clash to avoid finishing in the relegation play-off place. Butcher’s side lost out and must now prevail against in-form Accies over two legs in order to preserve their top-flight status, which has been threatened by a run of just one win in 19 matches.
Butcher’s attempt at positive thinking was portrayed as having backfired against Kilmarnock. Rugby Park manager Allan Johnston revealed that his opposite number’s pre-match words about having planned the details of his team’s date with destiny right down to the after-match celebrations had been noted by his players. Kilmarnock won 1-0 with a Kris Boyd goal and Johnston later admitted that “obviously everyone saw that in the paper and I suppose it does add that extra incentive to do well”.
Now the boot is on the other foot as Butcher tries to make Hamilton regret various public comments from their camp since Sunday’s 2-1 aggregate victory over Falkirk in the play-off semi-final. Among them is Alex Neil’s contention that all the pressure is on Hibs, while the Hamilton manager stressed that he would not like to be in opposite number Butcher’s shoes.
Tony Andreu, who scored Accies’ winner on Sunday and has 14 goals to his name this season, also implied that the Championship side have no reason to fear Hibs. “They will be on our dressing-room wall,” promised Butcher yesterday.
Although these opinions sound fairly standard from a team seeking to take advantage of their underdog status, Butcher is desperate to make amends for a season described as “dismal” by the club’s own chairman last week. He is eager to employ all possible motivational techniques – including the traditional, and metaphorical, one of “pinning-up” articles on the dressing-room wall.
Rod Petrie recently released a statement on the Hibs official website apologising to supporters for the 11th placed finish, which the chairman conceded was “well below the capabilities of the management team and the players”. While Butcher accepts such comments, he plans to use those from elsewhere as ammunition. The manager is relishing the opportunity “to rectify the faults of the season” in the two-legged tie.
“We consider ourselves fortunate to have this opportunity,” said Butcher, who is expected to include the fit-again Kevin Thomson – he described the midfielder yesterday as “wanting to stick his chest out, like everyone else” – in his starting XI.
“Normally, when you finish in the position we did after 38 games, and if you haven’t got enough points, haven’t scored enough goals, you get relegated. You don’t get another chance. But we’ve got two chances and we want to take them.
“It’s a great challenge against Hamilton. They have earned the right to match up against us. I know they are looking forward to it. I’ve read their comments with great interest. They will be on our dressing-room wall.
“We’ve seen one or two things and taken note, but talk is Supporters are behind us,” he added. “People say things but it’s not about talk, it’s about action. Our players are fired up because we are in a position we don’t want to be in.”
Butcher faced the brunt of the fans’ anger following the Kilmarnock defeat but he was heartened by a letter received from the Hibs Supporters’ Association in recent days.
“I sense a real Hibernian spirit coming together here,” he said. “We have had a nice letter from the fans getting behind the team. They will turn up in their numbers to back us. I am confident that spirit will get us over the line.”
Rather than celebrating as planned two weekends ago, Butcher admitted that he endured some soul-searching on a walk along the beach on Sunday morning, the jeers of the fans still ringing in his ears from the previous afternoon. “I took the dog out for so long I should have done it as a sponsored walk,” he said. “I had to get over it quickly.”
Conscious that some players have had to cancel holidays, Butcher ensured they at least had a change of scenery by training away from East Mains in recent days. The switch to the artificial surface at Spartans was intended to prepare them for tonight’s clash on a similar type of pitch at New Douglas Park, but the break in routine was also helpful.
“We had a change of venue where we went to Spartans and they looked after us very well,” he said.
Butcher described the atmosphere as “bright and bubbly”, and added: “I know that sounds strange when you’ve finished in 11th spot, but it’s a whole new championship now. Our league now is two games and we want to come out on top.”