Judging by the acres of newsprint the arrival of Terry Butcher at Easter Road had commanded, it appeared an instant cure to all ills afflicting Hibs had been found.
The reality, of course, is that Butcher and his right-hand man Maurice Malpas will need time to address the problems they find having inherited a squad which many concede is as good as any in the Scottish Premiership outwith Celtic and yet one which has failed, at least thus far, to deliver on the promise within that dressing-room. As such this no-scoring draw in Paisley was, as Butcher himself observed, “a good, solid start” for a side which had lost its four previous matches and although this was now a fifth successive game without a goal there was much, the big Englishman insisted, to please both him and Malpas, revealing he’d not known quite what to expect from his new charges in their first outing under his control.
What he did get if not quite silky stylish football, was a drive, commitment and energy, a desire to impress their new gaffer which carried Hibs – backed by a travelling support of 1198 in a crowd of 4451 – through a tricky opening against a team which, having overcome its own early-season difficulties, went into this game buoyed by having lost just one of their previous six matches. The steel which Butcher had hoped to see on display was certainly there, the home fans irked by what they saw as a string of over-robust challenges, the eagerness of the Hibs players to catch the eye of those newly installed in the dug-out resulting in a frenetic and fragmented display in those opening stages as they hurled themselves into tackles, intent on getting the ball forward as quickly as possible.
Hibs’ approach, though, didn’t surprise Buddies boss Danny Lennon in the slightest, the former Easter Road midfielder admitting: “The energy Hibs brought was fantastic, you could tell the knee-jerk reaction of a new manager coming in that they were going for that jersey,” while St Mirren star Paul McGowan wasn’t too troubled by what he found, accepting his opponents would be working hard to impress Butcher but describing those tackles which so angered Saints’ supporters as “nothing malicious.”
McGowan did, however, concede it led to a match which lacked class, describing it as “like a Sunday League game,” but also, like Lennon, admitting it was a good point for St Mirren from the sort of game they’d have lost earlier in the season and one gained against a Hibs side which, in his opinion, “will be on the up.”
That remains to be seen, Butcher fully aware that no-one will be rushing to judgment based on these 90 minutes; it’s what his players produce over the coming weeks – starting with Saturday’s tricky Scottish Cup clash against Ross County in Dingwall – which will define how the remainder of this season pans out and determine just how much surgery he deems is necessary on his squad both in the January transfer window and again next summer.
He said: “The first thing we are looking for is to stabilise things and give ourselves a platform and foundation to work on and we certainly started that today.”
What will have pleased Butcher, though, was the fact that having negotiated those nervy opening minutes, his team finished the stronger and, but for that glaring lack of goals, with just nine in 14 games making Hibs the lowest scorers in the league by some distance, his first match in charge might just have been a bit more enjoyable.
The Edinburgh side weren’t helped by the early departure of their most experienced striker after only five minutes, Paul Heffernan limping off with a torn muscle in his left thigh, although Butcher was more than happy with the contribution of his replacement James Collins who, with his tireless running, helped in no small measure to take his side up the pitch in the second half with most of the play in that period taking place in Saints’ territory.
Collins felt he should have had a first-half penalty when he went to the deck having nicked the ball ahead of Buddies defender Darren McGregor although it would have fallen into the soft category. However, Saints should have been ahead in the third minute, the usually reliable Steven Thompson sclaffing horribly wide from 12 yards with only Ben Williams to beat.
However, the Hibs goalkeeper, like his opposite number, former Hearts No. 1 Marian Kello, had little to do as both teams battled themselves to a standstill, Butcher and Lennon relatively contented although both could make a case for feeling their team might have sneaked a win.
The Buddies’ boss said: “I thought we started the game very brightly, got into a little bit of a rhythm but, as predicted, Hibs fought and scrapped for a lot of balls. I felt we had the better chances of the match but it was a very hard-fought point for us.”
Lennon’s assertion that this was a match his side would most probably have lost during those difficult early days of the season could equally have applied to Hibs, their distinct lack of goals having left them vulnerable, so to see Williams notch up only his fourth clean sheet of the season was another positive.
Butcher said: “Satisfactory is a good word, it was very satisfactory for me, a good, solid start as far as we are concerned. We kept a clean sheet, got the ball forward well in the second half, which I felt we dominated, but we just couldn’t get that goal right in front of the Hibs fans that they were craving.
“I was delighted because we did not know what to expect, we did not know what we were going to get but I thought the more the game went on the more cohesive they became, there was more understanding and we played more in the St Mirren half which we wanted to do.
“We said at half-time that one goal was going to win it and we tried to do that. We got lots of crosses into the box which was very encouraging but we just could not get that finishing touch. Ben Williams had nothing to do in the second half, the back four were strong, they nullified Thompson and nullified McGowan to a certain extent and allowed us to play from there.” Butcher concluded: “They surprised us and pleasantly so,” before adding with tongue firmly in cheek: “It’s onwards and upwards, an unbeaten run of one.”