Hibs had been favourites to win the first two derbies of the season only to lose on both occasions to Hearts. They dominated last night’s league game and took the lead on the hour through James Collins, only to be pegged back ten minutes later when Ryan McGivern diverted a David Smith shot into his own net. On previous occasions the home team might have wilted at that point, but they showed the greater confidence they have been given by Butcher, and secured a 2-1 victory when Liam Craig scored from the penalty spot after Lewis Stevenson had been fouled by Jordan McGhee.
“It feels terrific, a lovely feeling, because the club, the players and fans have suffered a lot because of Hearts this season,” Butcher said after the win, which took Hibs into the top six. “Tonight was all about just winning the match – everything after that takes care of itself.
“I said to the players before that it’s very much like Andy Murray when he went out for the men’s singles final at Wimbledon. He was carrying the whole nation on his shoulders – but he just thought about it as a tennis match. All our players were thinking about was winning a football match, let’s get on with it.
“You saw when Andy won at Wimbledon, that’s when the emotion hit him. That’s what I wanted afterwards, the impact of winning the match to hit them only when they’d won it. They had to get to that point first in order to experience that feeling.” Butcher acknowledged there had been anxious moments before and after the equaliser, which came during Hearts’ best spell of the game. But he argued that his team had merited the win, and had been overdue a penalty award.
“I was delighted with many aspects. We conceded a goal, which isn’t like us, but I was delighted with the reaction when we did concede. There have been times in the past, looking from afar, when the boys would have let it affect them. In the past, Hearts would maybe have taken a point or even gone on to win the game. But our boys steeled themselves, came back into it, dominated – and thoroughly deserved to win the game.
“We don’t get penalties. We’ve had one league penalty all season and it came tonight. Lewis has been challenged, Bobby Madden was very close and gave it. I’m delighted he made the decision. I think it was the right decision.
“There was no reason to make the challenge on Lewis – and Lewis has been wiped out. The ball is running on and he’s been fouled. Anywhere else on the pitch and it’s a foul.”
Butcher has already made a number of inquiries with a mind to strengthening his squad during the transfer window, and is confident of being able to recruit later in the month. For the time being, the return from injury of striker Paul Heffernan, who came off the bench and was close to extending his team’s lead, will feel like having a new player in any case.
Hearts manager Gary Locke does not have the luxury of being able to recruit, and was forced into a late change last night when captain Danny Wilson came down with a stomach bug.
Locke was dismayed by the penalty award, but proud of the spirit with which his team had played in a contest which many had expected Hibs to win at a canter.
“We worked our socks off to get back in the game, and to lose such a controversial goal is a hard one to take,” Locke said after a result that leaves his team on minus two points.
“I’ve seen it again, and Jordan goes across the lad. But the ball’s already out the pitch.
“You see that type of thing happening week in week out – there’s never a foul given. It’s a sore one, because he gives a penalty and as I say that happens all the time and there’s never anything given, yet he’s decided to give a decision tonight.
“Some of the decisions that we’ve had over the course of this season have been nothing short of incredible, and I just hope our luck turns a wee bit,” Locke went on.
While Hearts are now 16 points adrift, rather than the 15-point penalty with which they began the season, Locke is still not giving up the fight against relegation. Definitely not. There’s still a lot of games to go and if we put that type of effort in . . .
“If we get everybody fit and on the pitch we’ve got a better chance but, at the moment, we’ve got two or three injuries that are certainly costing us. “
A generally well-behaved occasion was marred by the incursion on to the pitch of two supporters at the same time, one from the away stand and the other from one of the home stands.
A green flare was also let off after Collins scored the opening goal.