It could easily have been one of Terry Butcher’s by now legendary mind games. Give me a word beginning with ‘P’ which best summed up Hibs’ display. It was Butcher himself who came up with the answer. Perseverance.
That was what it was all about for Hibs as they simply refused to give up against Partick Thistle on Saturday, determined to battle until the very end. Their resilience was eventually rewarded as James Collins struck deep into the four minutes added on by referee James Beaton to snatch a point from what seemed certain defeat on the day new boss Butcher finally made his Easter Road debut.
It was a gritty rather than pretty display, but, nevertheless, purloining something from a match which the Capital club would most likely have lost only a few weeks ago means that Butcher is unbeaten in his first three matches. That record, however, will be subject to a stern examination when the former Rangers captain takes his side to Celtic Park this weekend.
Butcher’s arrival has captured the imagination of the Hibs faithful. His presence encouraged almost 1700 more fans along than had attended the last home match, the 2-0 defeat by Inverness Caley.
He did, though, warn in his first programme notes that while he expects an “enjoyable and exciting trip” as manager, it will take time to get to where he and assistant Maurice Malpas want to go. He wrote that goals and free-flowing football will come sooner rather than later, but for the time being, it would be the togetherness and resilience of the players which would see them through and provide the platform for the desired success.
As always, there’s no magic wand to be waved. Butcher has inherited a squad which has failed to fulfil the potential contained within it, reflected in the fact Hibs have won just four of their 15 Scottish Premiership matches thus far. Moreover, they have only won two league matches at home in the whole of 2013. Little wonder then that confidence remains fragile, as noted by Butcher when Partick striker Kris Doolan nicked the ball off the toes of Jordon Forster and raced half the length of the pitch to beat Ben Williams. “It was as if someone had turned on a tap,” he said, “and confidence just flooded out.”
In the weeks preceding Butcher’s appointment, Doolan’s goal would probably have been enough to see off Hibs, here facing a Partick side seeking to break a run of five successive defeats, the Easter Road club themselves having failed to find the opposition’s net in 552 minutes of league action.
Danny Handling’s Scottish Cup winner against Ross County had brought some welcome relief on that front, but even so, the fans had to wait another 92 minutes to see their team get into double figures in the league. The equaliser came from Collins, who ended his own personal drought stretching back into late September as he struck deep into stoppage time.
While Jags boss Alan Archibald admitted it felt more like a defeat to have conceded an equaliser so late in the game, Hibs could argue – with some justification – that had it not been for Thistle goalkeeper Scott Fox, the points would have been their’s long before the final whistle. Four times Fox threw himself full-length to touch away shots seemingly destined for the back of his net, the first in only the third minute as he got his fingertips to former Partick star Paul Cairney’s effort.
A rasping Ryan McGivern drive from 35 yards was met with a similar response, as were shots from Owain Tudur Jones and Collins, while Jordan McMillan came from nowhere to prevent Lewis Stevenson marking his 200th appearance in a green-and-white shirt with a goal as he prepared to tap home Alan Maybury’s inviting cross.
And when teenage hitman Jason Cummings, scorer of 27 goals for the club’s Under-20 and East of Scotland sides this season, fluffed his lines, taking a fresh air shot only a couple of yards out as Forster nodded Liam Craig’s corner to the back post, that appeared to be that for Hibs.
However, they continued to throw everything at the Jags – Butcher joking he’d even seen a kitchen sink flying across Thistle’s penalty area at one stage – and if the quality of crosses wasn’t great at times with too many put in from deep areas rather than the bye-line, Hibs eventually got their reward when Paul Hanlon met Williams’ free-kick to direct the ball down for Collins to take a touch before lashing the ball home.
There was no-one more relieved than £200,000 striker Collins, who said: “I was beginning to think it was not our day. Their keeper pulled off some great saves earlier in the game, but we showed great attitude. When the ball fell at my feet, I just wanted to hit it cleanly and thankfully it went in.”
Butcher claimed to have been “absolutely ecstatic” to see Collins finally get on the scoresheet, describing the former Swindon Town star as having been “inspirational”, saying: “He has been brilliant in the last three games, he’s led the line tremendously well, worked his socks off. It was a good finish and a good header down from Paul Hanlon and it was great to see a ball drop to a Hibs player in the box. It was amazing it hadn’t happened before with the crosses, corners and everything else we put in there.”
Butcher admitted when he saw 18-year-old Cummings fail to take that last chance, he felt that was it, but added: “You do think that, but you have to keep going.
“I told them I was delighted with the point because we could have lost the game and probably a few months ago we would have lost it. This was a minute step forward, but we are not taking one back. It shows in a way that the spirit is excellent, the belief is still there, the perseverance to keep on going and the resilience in terms that they did not want to lose the game.
“Perhaps we are a difficult team to beat because we keep going and that is a great positive for me.”