Ferrere purrs for Motherwell but Sauzee still stalls

FOUR years ago, almost to the day, Hibs left Fir Park in free fall after a 6-2 humiliation at the hands of Motherwell.

Jim Duffy was relieved of his managerial duties but relegation to the First Division could not be prevented.

Fast forward from February 1998 to February 2002 and only the even more abject run being endured by St Johnstone is sparing Hibs from the same fate.

While their SPL status may not be under any genuine threat this time around, however, it is surely time for the alarm bells to start ringing in the Easter Road corridors of power.

The very suggestion that Franck Sauzee may simply not be cut out for this managerial lark is still anathema to most of the club’s fans but the early signs are, beyond dispute, worrying to say the least.

This crushing defeat at Fir Park, sparked by one of the most remarkable debuts you will ever see from Motherwell’s latest French recruit David Ferrere, was every bit as ignominious as the one suffered in Duffy’s last game in charge.

Hibs were swatted aside by more committed, better organised opponents.

The lack of a positive response to their lame exit from the CIS Insurance Cup to Ayr in midweek was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of a deeply depressing afternoon for the small band of Hibs fans shivering in the upper tier of Fir Park’s South Stand.

The only chants of "there’s only one Sauzee" on Saturday were the ironic ones coming from the home support.

By the time Ferrere had completed his stunning hat-trick ten minutes from time, most of the Hibs fans were long gone.

Their love affair with Sauzee is being tested to the limit and will surely be heading for the divorce courts should Hibs lose to Dunfermline at Easter Road on next Saturday.

With two meetings with St Johnstone still to come, it is not entirely impossible that their desperate season could get even worse.

While no boss deserves to be judged after just two months in the job, and there are undoubtedly mitigating circumstances for the current miserable run, Sauzee must provide a sign soon that he is indeed capable of turning things around.

Not unreasonably, he expressed the wish on Saturday night to have the opportunity of a full pre-season to put his own stamp on the side with a turnover of the playing staff.

Given the 11-point gap still separating them from St Johnstone Hibs can afford to give him that chance, but he must surely also provide some indication in the rest of this season that he can make the next campaign a far brighter one.

"Everyone is asking if I am the right man in the right place as manager," admitted Sauzee on Saturday night. "I want to start a season with my whole ideas about football and with my own players as well. If I am not able, if I am wrong, I will go.

"If I am sacked, no problem. But I will never quit. I will prove that I am strong enough. It is in the hard times that you must show your true face and real determination."

Sauzee remained locked in the dressing room with his players for 45 minutes afterwards but said there was "no shouting". Perhaps it’s time he considered even raising his voice slightly, because the message clearly isn’t getting through.

"I can’t kill my players, I love them even if we lost", was one of his more bizarre observations and it’s doubtful the Hibs fans shared his mood of benevolence as they headed back along the M8.

To rub salt in their wounds, one of their former favourites played a pivotal role in Motherwell’s fine victory. Dirk Lehmann scored once and had a hand in two of Ferrere’s goals and the German striker had sympathy for the plight of his former team-mate Sauzee.

"If you look at the Hibs side, eight or nine of them were playing last season when we did so well," he said. "Franck is a great man and you have to believe in him to turn it around. But it has to come from the players, they have to give something back."

The first 45 minutes on Saturday offered no hint of the hammering which was to come Hibs’ way. It was dire stuff, lacking in any imagination, and seemed to have 0-0 written all over it. Enter stage right, David Ferrere.

The 27-year-old, released by French second division side Louhans-Cuiseaux at the end of last season, had been training with Metz after failing to find a new club.

A call to Motherwell manager Eric Black from his former club alerted him to Ferrere’s availability and, after a two-week trial, he signed an 18-month contract and was given a place on the bench on Saturday.

An injury to captain Scott Leitch forced Black to throw Ferrere into the action at the start of the second half and he will never make a more productive substitution.

Three fabulous right-foot finishes earned him a 27-minute hat-trick, his third strike preceded by Lehmann’s header as Hibs were routed. "It is a credit to David he was able to play like that after being out of football for so long," said Black. "He gave us a real spark and for 35 minutes that was as well as we have played this year."

Referee: R McKay. Attendance: 5,367