THEY may be about to lose their manager, but Caley Thistle were determined they wouldn’t lose anything else to the side who are courting him.
Terry Butcher is expected to finalise a deal to make him the new Hibs manager today and, in doing so, will leave behind a side who sit proudly in second spot in the Premiership table after Saturday’s 2-0 win at Easter Road.
This 90 minutes will certainly have given Butcher plenty of food for thought for the weeks which lie ahead.
Nick Ross and Billy McKay scored the goals which did the damage to Butcher’s suitors, but all over the pitch the Highlanders were streets ahead of their managerless opponents, particularly in the first half.
The result and performance were secondary, though. The main talking point of the day was the arrival of Butcher.
The former England captain had turned up at Easter Road as if in disguise, wearing a long beige coat, topped off with a flat cap in the same colour.
He was accompanied by his wife Rita and agent Jim McArthur, who has played a key role in brokering the deal to make him the next Hibs manager.
He had been expected to stay away from the fixture altogether to avoid any added furore. But Butcher showed he’s not afraid of a bit of controversy as he took his seat in the stand, beside the Hibs fans, and flanked by Hibs officials, including director Gary O’Hagan.
He is, however, likely to be in the Hibs dugout when they take on St Mirren in Paisley in a fortnight’s time after the international break.
In the absence of a manager this time around though, Butcher’s old team-mate Jimmy Nicholl took charge of the side but revealed after the match that he cleared his desk at East Mains on Friday in anticipation of being told that his services are no longer required.
Nicholl, who was brought to the club by Fenlon to work as a coach, has only been in the job for a couple of months.
It’s hard not to feel for the affable Irishman but Nicholl insisted that there are no sour grapes on his part and, indeed, he wished his old friend Butcher the best if he is installed to the position.
Nicholl said: “He’s a great fellow. He’s a humble man, too.
“When I was at Raith Rovers he wrote me a letter saying that if there were ever any positions coming up, would I consider him.
“I phoned him and asked why he was writing letters to me!
“I spoke to the chairman and said that I would love to have him in but they told me that they weren’t in a position to do anything financially.
“I told Terry that I would love to have him in but could not pay him.
“He just said ‘Jimmy, do you get your petrol paid?’ and when I said yes, he told me that if I put £50 in his motor every week then he would come in and work. That’s what he did and he was brilliant.
“Where he is now, he has worked hard to get there.
“He’s a big football man and I am glad that things have worked out for him.”
The game was played out in front of Hibs’ lowest league crowd of the season – and those home fans who chose to stay away must have been grateful for small mercies.
This was as poor a performance as the Easter Road outfit have put in in the Premiership so far.
And Butcher must surely have had mixed emotions when the Highlanders were awarded a penalty kick with just 13 minutes gone after a foul on Graeme Shinnie.
Ross stepped up to take it and he smashed the ball high into the net beyond Ben Williams.
At that point, the Caley fans chanted ‘Butcher, Butcher, what’s the score?’ and the home support responded with cries of ‘Terry Butcher’s green and white army’.
Just a couple of minutes, star hitman Billy McKay – who has been in inspirational form for Caley this season – slotted into the net from a tight angle.
Caley were all over Hibs at this point and could have increased their lead significantly before even half an hour was gone.
First a cross from the right for Aaron Dorran – which was intended for McKay – was cut out by Alan Maybury. But the Hibs defender was lucky not to have an own goal to his name as the ball bounced back off the post and along the goal-line into the arms of Williams.
Then Shinnie came close, this time a run down the right and shot leaving Williams stranded, but the ball fizzed just a couple of inches wide.
Hibs had a chance when Tom Taiwo picked out Scott Robertson to his right but the Easter Road player couldn’t keep his shot down and the ball blazed well over the crossbar.
Other than that Hibs, quite literally, offered nothing in the opening 45 minutes.
Hibs brought on Abdellah Zoubir and Rowan Vine at half-time, at the expense of Ryan McGivern and Taiwo and, while Hibs were beginning to at least string a few decent moves together, it was still Caley who posed the biggest threat.
Doran and McKay both came close again, the former trying his luck from distance, but Caley couldn’t add to their tally and the match will certainly have given Butcher real food for thought for the weeks ahead.
It also provided Maurice Malpas with a few questions of his own to be answered.
The Caley assistant manager took charge of the Highlanders for the day and insisted that, if Butcher is confirmed as Hibs boss, there’s no guarantee that he will be coming with him.
In fact, he threw his name into the hat for the soon-to-be vacant Caley manager’s position.
Although keen to focus on the performance he had just witnessed, he said: “I will talk about the game. I thought that the boys were fantastic.
“There was a lot of hullaballoo during the week about what was happening or wasn’t happening, so it was difficult.
“But I thought that they came to Easter Road and showed what kind of pros they are – and what type of club we are.
“People are assuming I’m involved in this. I am not.
“Terry has spoken to Hibs and Hibs are speaking to our club. I would expect that, when Terry makes up his mind, I will get the call to say ‘you’re not coming’ or ‘do you want to come’.”
Asked whether it was conceivable that the duo would go their separate ways, Malpas added: “It’s a possibility.
“I haven’t really thought too much about it, I have been trying to wait until a decision is made elsewhere first.
“It could become a difficult decision for me, depending on what happens, what is offered.”
But he measured: “I enjoy coaching, I am happiest when I am on the training ground. I am not particularly good in front of the press guys or in front of the directors.
“I love being out on the training pitch and that is the one thing that I missed when I was a manager.”