IN THE OLD IRISH TRADITION of Hibernian, a wreath of flowers in the shape of a broken harp would be presented at a funeral as a mark of respect. Yesterday’s events when, to quote the old ironic phrase, Hibs, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, was not a funeral but was nevertheless a sad and emotional culmination of several years of struggle for the club.
It’s difficult to write these word without showing anger at the catastrophic mismanagement of the team and the club as a whole but in the twilight of this ignominious period in Hibernian history that anger is reverting to the familiar frustration by myself and, dare I say, a majority of the support.
After angry scenes of protest outside Easter Road last evening we awoke to news that there are staff meetings scheduled at the training centre at East Mains today. Already the media informs us that no less than fourteen players are invited or ordered to end their association with Hibs. There are many fans that wished for this after one abject display after another over a series of months and who can blame them? For me though, the problem is that the man with a great shared responsibility for the club’s demise is the individual serving the ‘don’t come Monday’ messages in Manager, Terry Butcher. It’s an indication, however accurate or otherwise, that he is being relied on to rebuild the Hibs – a gargantuan order that I don’t think he is fit to be tasked with.
Since arriving at Easter Road I cannot think of one single positive that Butcher or his cohort Malpas and Marsella have brought to the team. There is simply nothing. They have however brought disarray, discord, indecision and a brand of football that I can only describe as ‘prehistoric’. A (the) main tactic appears to be dumping the ball into the opposite team’s corners in an attempt to create pressure. Former Hibs and Hearts midfielder, Mikey Stewart correctly identified this mediocre thinking on Sportscene last evening and added the sentiment that it’s the type of football that ‘deserves nothing’. I am much in agreement with Stewart.
The game itself against Hamilton featured a litany of managerial errors that cost Hibs dearly. and cost the team it’s SPFL status in fact. I remain simply amazed that this fact isn’t recognised by Rod Petrie and his fellow board members. Those questionable decisions included not selecting the old head and steady experience of Kevin Thomson for such a fraught affair – a man who might well have brought the ball to ground a little and protected his teammates. Butcher also mystifyingly returned Danny Haynes to the team from nowhere to replace out of confidence youngster, Alex Harris – a strange move indeed and surely either Cairney, who can play a similar position or the aforementioned Thomson would have been superior choices. Within minutes Haynes was being helped from the pitch injured so what did Butcher do? Yes, pitch Harris back into a white-hot relegation battle. For a man who proposes to understand a little psychology and use it with his players I found this, again, mystifying. Embarrassingly, he had to substitute his substitute later in the game. One hopes that Alex hasn’t been set back too far by his treatment by Butcher in general this season. How to ruin a young player’s development.
In the first leg, another youngster, Jason Cummings, happily broke his duck for the first team with a fine brace of goals. What did Butcher then do for this game? Play him further back in front of his own left-back in order that he could keep his treasured 5-4-1 formation, therefore rendering the keen young forward impotent as an offensive threat. Later in the game with Hibs having formerly clearly played for a draw and now desperately playing for a 0-1 defeat, the manager pulled the experienced and intelligent play of Heffernan from the action to be replaced by his favoured defensive midfielder Tudur Jones, leaving Hibs vulnerable and offering little goal threat should extra time have been necessary, which it proved to be.
Full marks should be given to Hamilton who played good, attractive, neat football at all times and passed it around and through their Hibs counterparts. It looked a sophisticated style when compared to Hibs’ leaden lumping of the ball forward, rendering possession to the opposition time after time.
After an excruciating two periods of extra time, we finally came down to the almost inevitable penalty shoot-out and here again, Butcher showed his incredible lack of know-how and judgement for a man of his experience in the game. The club’s regular and arguably best penalty taker, Craig was not chosen to take the first penalty with Thomson gamely stepping up to take responsibility for getting the team on its way. The inevitable happened, with Thomson not being a regular penalty taker. Sadly, it came down to young Cummings again to take the do or die fifth spot kick and I felt this was a huge strain on an 18-year-old youngster – unforgivable really. He missed his kick, hid his face in floods of tears and Hibs were relegated. What a way to hang the young man out to dry. What a way to be relegated.
So, the future and who knows, this piece may be out of date very quickly but it appears that at the time of writing the Butcher-Petrie axis remains with us. I have the strong feeling that the former Rangers man employs a somewhat ‘bullying’ style of management and this concerns me if so. There will always be players that can cope with that but others that cannot. That’s the way it is. I recall dear old Brian Clough at Forest terrifying some of his players at times – even to the point of the like of England international, Viv Anderson hiding under a desk when he heard Clough approaching but the big difference was that those same players had respect for their manager. I don’t think that exists with Butcher and the Hibs players. They appear to hate him – and he them. The same feelings appear to surround coach, Malpas who has specialised in having run-ins with fans in the seats around the dug-out. Classy indeed.
I’ve said enough regarding this sad and disturbing part of Hibs history but of course there is one man culpable more than any other who I’ve barely mentioned – Rod Petrie. I have plenty to say about him for another time as it seems we are stuck with him still – even though he has brought in the interesting character of Leeann Dempster in order to deflect flak from himself by the look of things. From the club’s owner, to him and his board, the management staff and the players, all have critically underperformed. In fact the only people who haven’t are the fans. I salute them – especially the ones who can find it in themselves to continue supporting this club after one abject humiliation heaped upon another.
God bless the Hibs.