Terry Butcher admits both he and Maurice Malpas are not entitled to escape the finger-pointing that followed Hibs’ dismal performance crashing out of the Scottish Cup to Raith Rovers last weekend.
The Easter Road boss branded his players’ display “unacceptable” as they went down 3-2 despite twice pegging the Fife club back but, he insisted, the management team weren’t guilt-free themselves.
Claiming the standard of training in the wake of the cup shock had been “far better” than last week as his squad prepared for today’s visit from Ross County, Butcher made a candid admission. “Maurice made a very good point that maybe we, as in me and him, had taken our eye off the ball a little bit because we had been doing well and maybe training hasn’t been as high a tempo as it should have been.
“You don’t do that consciously, but sometimes things happen. Things are going well and you get a little bit carried away because you are in a decent league position and doing this and that. Then all of a sudden, bang, it hits you between the eyes.
“The performances haven’t been great and you can take it back to the standard of training and maybe it hasn’t been as sharp as it should’ve been. This week is has been sharp. This week it has been great and the intensity is back and we need to transfer that onto the pitch. You have to train as you play and, if you don’t train the way you play, then it’s very difficult to turn it on on the Saturday.
“This week, though, it has been great and the talk has been good. But talk is cheap, it’s about action. That’s the most important thing but they know what they have to do and it’s quite simple and they are looking forward to it. We are all looking forward to it.”
County boss Derek Adams was at Easter Road to watch Hibs struggle against Raith but Butcher believes he’ll see an entirely different team in green and white today as the Capital outfit go for a third win in a row against the team from Dingwall. He said: “I hope Derek thinks we’re going to play like that again. I certainly hope we don’t. We’ve got the bit between our teeth because it’s very clear what we have to do.”
However, Butcher warned Hibs will also be facing a new-look County side. Adams has rung the changes since Hibs beat them twice in quick succession in Dingwall at the end of last year, the Staggies boss having brought in a clutch of new players during the January transfer window and been rewarded with eight points from five matches since.
He said: “They’re a much changed team and we’re prepared for a different sort of challenge from them. They have a better shape in terms of strength and have two strong strikers that can hold the ball up and run in behind. Hopefully they’ll miss Filip Kiss, who is suspended, as he’s done very well in central midfield where they’ve pushed Richard Brittain out to the right and brought in Michael Tidser. They have good experience in the team and a lot of confidence, having beaten Dundee United while they possibly should have beaten Kilmarnock. They’ve been inactive for two weeks as we knocked them out of the Cup back in November but I’m sure they’ll be wanting to come down here and win.” Butcher and his players had their usual Monday morning discussion regarding events last Saturday when, he disclosed, they identified their 3-0 win over Kilmarnock in December as the sort of display they’re desperate to replicate on a regular basis.
He said: “It was a very powerful performance, clean sheet, good goals, a strong display. That’s exactly what they want to get back to. It’s the same players that achieved that and those two wins against Ross County. They were strong performances and in the nine games remaining we need such performances.”
Although he has captain Liam Craig suspended and Scott Robertson, Kevin Thomson and Owain Tudur Jones injured, along with “one or two niggles and knocks”, Butcher insisted he was “very confident” in the team he was considering for today’s match, having revealed that, in his estimation, only Duncan Watmore and Sam Stanton had achieved pass marks against Raith.
He said: “We’ve said all the places are up for grabs and all the players have responded by everyone staking their claim, but I would have expected that. They are eager, keen and fresh. We can’t play in a cup final but we have nine similar matches to play and we want to finish on a high this year and make sure our supporters can enjoy five more games in the top six.”