Terry Butcher today insisted Hibs have lost the fear of playing at Easter Road as they seek a third consecutive win at home for the first time in almost three years when St Mirren come calling tomorrow.
The Capital club had won only two league games throughout last year before beating Kilmarnock in their final Scottish Premiership match of 2013, following up that victory with a derby triumph as Hearts “first footed” them on January 2.
But now Butcher’s players have the chance to make it a hat-trick of home wins for the first time since February 2011, that particular run, coincidentally, sparked by a visit from the Buddies. Goals from Derek Riordan and David Wotherspoon guided Hibs to victory that day and it was followed up by wins against Kilmarnock and Inverness Caley while defeating St Mirren and Hamilton stretched that winning streak to five games.
Having seen his first home games as Hibs manager – against Partick Thistle and St Johnstone – end in frustrating draws, Butcher believes his stars are now enjoying playing at Easter Road again rather than dreading it.
He said: “They have changed their mindset. Against Partick, in particular, you looked at it and thought ‘they are afraid of playing here’. But we are not afraid any more. We are enjoying it and are excited by the challenge of playing at home and we want to win again, again and again.
“The champions [Celtic] are coming next week, but in the meantime this St Mirren match is our only focus and we want to make it three in a row at home, which would be good and unheard of for a while. It’s a good target for us. We have already achieved a few firsts at the club and we want to achieve some more.”
St Mirren were also the first side Hibs faced after Butcher replaced Pat Fenlon as manager, that game in Paisley last November ending in a no-scoring draw but, the Easter Road boss insisted, Danny Lennon’s players will face an entirely different proposition this time round.
He said: “I think we’ve come a long way since then. We have taken a lot of baby steps forward and I feel we have come a good distance since that first game. The shape of the team hasn’t changed very much apart from one or two personnel, but I think the boys’ confidence has been growing all the time.”
Hibs’ progress was checked by defeat at Aberdeen with what Butcher branded as their worst performance since he took over. But, he revealed, his players are eager to expunge the memory of that display. He said: “They have been bright, sharp and can’t wait for training to finish so they can start playing. They want to get out on to the pitch and win and playing at Easter Road gives them a lot of confidence now where before it probably didn’t.”
Meanwhile, Butcher has expressed confidence that teenage winger Alex Harris, who returned to action against the Dons after five months out with a broken ankle, will clinch a new deal in the near future.
Negotiations have been going on for some time, but Butcher, who believes Harris can be Hibs’ answer to Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, said: “His contract issue is still ongoing, but we’re optimistic he’ll sign.”