Butcher attended Saturday’s match between the teams as a private individual, sitting in the main stand with his agent, former Hibs goalkeeper Jim McArthur. It was the clearest sign yet that the Inverness manager is close to parting company with his present employers, and once personal terms are finalised, compensation will need to be agreed.
Jimmy Nicholl, who had been Pat Fenlon’s assistant, was in charge of Hibs for their 2-0 defeat, while Malpas was the main man in the away dugout. Nicholl gave every indication after the game that he would shortly leave Easter Road, saying he had cleared his desk on Friday. But Malpas hedged his bets, saying it was possible he would want to succeed Butcher at Caley Thistle. So far Hibs have been denied permission to talk to Malpas and to Inverness chief scout Steve Marsella.
If those two do move south, it would therefore only happen after Butcher’s installation. With Butcher in limbo, the game between the clubs was played out in a curious atmosphere, as Hibs midfielder Scott Robertson said. “It was a very strange build-up to the game, to be honest,” he said. “It couldn’t have been more ironic that the first game, since the news broke on Monday that the club were looking to bring him in, was against Inverness. So it was a strange build-up – I’ve never experienced anything like it. I can’t really describe it.”
Former Caley Thistle midfielder Owain Tudur Jones, who moved to Easter Road in the summer, has been the centre of attention at training as his team-mates asked him what they should expect if and when Butcher moves in. “Obviously as soon as the news broke everybody was asking Jonesy what he was like,” Robertson continued. “And obviously Jonesy was positive about it – he brought him to the club, had him there for two years and he did well. He wanted to keep him, so Jonesy was quite positive. He said he’s very hard-working and he will get the best out of people, so hopefully that’s what we can achieve here. The one thing I’d say about [Inverness] is they’re a very hard team to beat. And at the moment it doesn’t seem like we are like that. We’ve not done well at home at all. I think that will probably be the first thing he’s looking to improve, because we are too easy to beat.
“We feel we’ve got very good players at the club. Maybe not the perfect mix – we maybe need a bit more pace in the squad in certain areas – but we do have good players, and if we can be hard to beat we can pick up results like we have done. It’s a huge job. There’s a lot of pressure comes with it, obviously, but it’s a job that if he does well then I’m sure he’ll be in a similar situation in a few years’ time, with bigger clubs looking at him.”
Caley Thistle striker Billy McKay, who scored his team’s second goal, suggested that his squad had found the possible managerial switch easier to deal with than Hibs had done. “It’s been okay this past week,” he said. “Maurice has been out taking things and he takes most training, anyway, so we just got on with things. He told us to keep our minds on the Hibs game and we did that. On another day, we could have had three or four goals. You could see against Hibs, how many times we got into their final third, and that’s how we play. We’re a lot more than just hard to beat. First and foremost, we do work hard, we pride ourselves on that.
“But we’ve got the attacking players who can win games. We’ve got all the players in place to do well this season. Look at how well we played against Hibs, with everything going on, so any new manager who comes in will have a great set of lads who can win a lot of games.”
Having said that, McKay added that he had Butcher to thank for a great deal – first of all for signing him from Northampton, and then for remaining confident in his ability. “You know how much of a passionate man he is. When he speaks to you, it’s clear how much he cares about his job – and that he’ll always do his best for you. Obviously it will be strange for a while if Terry does go. But we just have to get on with it.”