This is his terrain, his turf. He might as well have planted a flag deep in the sod for extra effect.
The inference seems clear. Butcher intends to stick around for a while. Edinburgh derbies might soon face an interruption, but Butcher has already stressed the importance of beating your city rivals when the opportunity arises. The consequence of not doing so on a regular basis can be dire for those in charge, and so it was no surprise to see Butcher kicking the air in disgust when Hibs surrendered their one-goal advantage, given to them by James Collins, when substitute David Smith equalised with a deflected effort with 20 minutes left.
However, salvation for Hibs came in the form of Liam Craig’s late penalty winner. Unlike predecessor Pat Fenlon, who suffered a 3-1 home defeat on his first derby outing two years ago yesterday, Butcher got off to a far more acceptable start, although the narrow margin between being able to hail a significant victory and having to accept a dispiriting draw was again outlined here.
One moment the Hibs fans were fearing a draw that would have felt like a defeat, and the next, after Brad McKay was judged to have felled Lewis Stevenson, they were celebrating wildly as Craig slid home what proved to be the winning goal from the penalty spot.
Now happily ensconced in East Lothian, Butcher has no wish to hitch his future prospects to an under-performing set of players. He has revived Hibs by inserting some ballast into the side, and by making the changes in the creative areas that fans had been crying out for; Stevenson is now playing where he always should have been – in wide left midfield, not right-back. Paul Cairney, meanwhile, has been restored to the team on the other side of a midfield four.
As Hibs poured forward in the early stages of last night’s clash, the benefits were clear to see. Stevenson, in particular, looks to be transformed. The change in Hibs was further emphasised by the way they reacted to the disappointment of conceding an equaliser, although Butcher will know there is still work to be done. Hibs had Ben Williams to thank for a late save at his near post from McKay, who went in search of redemption at the other end and tested the Hibs goalkeeper with a well-struck shot. The home fans urged referee Bobby Madden to blow the final whistle, and he eventually granted them their wish. Butcher preferred to let others take centre stage at first, hanging back as his staff celebrated around him. However, he knows the significance of this victory, even if it was far less comprehensive than the home fans had hoped.
Fenlon’s stay proved to be a short one due to the troubles he had with the other team in the city. Hearts were his own version of Sir Alex Ferguson’s “noisy neighbours”, a complaint the former Manchester United manager made about Manchester City towards the end of his reign at Old Trafford. Even when the Tynecastle side had a lot less to shout about, Fenlon ended up being persecuted by them. Hibs have already been beaten on two occasions by their administration-hit rivals this season.
Memories of the most recent of these reversals were evoked by last night’s drama as Hibs set to work at a furious pace. As in the League Cup quarter-final clash, they were clearly told to hit Hearts straight from kick-off and seek to take advantage of centre-half Danny Wilson’s exclusion due to illness.
Cross after cross was curled into the box, though Hearts somehow survived via a combination of brave, last-ditch defending and sheer fortune. Jordon Forster saw his header clip off the top of the bar, while Jason Cummings cut a frustrated figure after his effort was tipped over the bar by Jamie MacDonald.
The secret was to maintain the pressure, to make hay while the sun shone, something they were unable to do in October – a failing that Fenlon paid for with his job shortly afterwards. It is clear that Butcher does not intend to see his reputation suffer because of this Hibs team. He has, after all, successfully restored his standing in the game over the course of several years in the Highlands.
He has spoken about the pleasing resilience in evidence of late. It is true that Hibs are no longer bearing the hallmarks of soft touches although even under Fenlon there were occasions when they proved they can look after themselves. Scott Robertson was fortunate to escape even censure from the referee for a late aerial challenge on Kevin McHattie, which left the defender slumped in a daze on the ground. To his great credit, he picked himself up off the turf, gave himself a shake and played on, with no complaint.
Everyone was eager for the game to be played in the correct spirit, particularly in light of the recent deaths of young players associated with both clubs. Save for a couple of slightly heated moments, it was, although the pitch invasion after Hearts’ equaliser – one away supporter ran onto the park, only to be met by a Hibs fan intent on doing his own bit of ‘stewarding’ – was regrettable. So, too, was the damage to the net after another fan had climbed up the rigging in salute of Smith’s strike. In these moments, Hibs’ fans worst fears were being realised. Their visitors had reason to again cavort in their hosts’ backyard.
Some anxiety was detected from the Hibs supporters towards the end of the first half and even the home players themselves began to seem slightly fretful.
Again Hibs were not able to translate their pressure into goals and as half-time neared, there were signs that Hearts were coming into game more, although Gary Locke’s side still struggled to create any goal openings of note.
In saying this, no-one needs to remind the Hibs supporters how they conceded the only goal of the game in their last meeting, Ryan Stevenson scored with an outrageously opportunist effort from 25 yards. There was always this possibility last night, even if Stevenson himself struggled to impose himself on the proceedings. It transpired that Hearts did score. However, this is a new Hibs, one being built in the image of a manager who, after shaking the hand of as many Hearts players as he could find at the end, shook his fists towards the home supporters in triumph.