Terry Butcher is set to name the same team for the fourth game in succession in tonight’s Edinburgh derby as Hibs target leapfrogging St Johnstone and into the top six of the Scottish Premiership.
The Saints were crushed 4-0 by Motherwell on New Year’s Day, paving the way for Butcher’s side to overtake them should they make it thirdtime lucky against their Capital rivals by taking all three points after losing this season’s two previous derby encounters 1-0.
Butcher, whose side has remained unbeaten during the festive period, is ready to stand by the players who have collected seven out of nine points from games against St Johnstone, Ross County and Kilmarnock, making it one defeat in seven matches since the Englishman took over from Pat Fenlon.
The Hibs boss is even likely to resist the temptation of restoring striker Paul Heffernan, who has been out since Butcher’s first game in charge with a thigh injury. Butcher believes consistency of selection has helped the Edinburgh club’s dramatic improvement in form, ridding themselves of their tag as the league’s lowest scorers, while now also boasting the tightest defence other than Celtic’s.
Pointing to how he chose the same team for the opening seven games of the season as Inverness Caledonian Thistle stormed to the top of the table, Butcher said: “I have always been told ‘play your best players’ and that’s a maxim I have stuck to. The next game is always your most important. This is the most important derby since the last one.
“I’ve said that if we could get on a good run over Christmas and New Year then that would help shoot us up the league. We have picked up points, we are chasing St Johnstone and we want to be in that top six as soon as we can.”
While other clubs have rotated their squads with differing degrees of success, Butcher has seen no reason for change, insisting: “I think when you get things going and moving in the right direction you do not want to make a lot of changes unless you have to. But what the players have done in terms of their fitness and sharpness is to increase their work-load during the weak and increased it on match days.
“They are reaping the rewards and that increased work-load also helps prevent injuries. They are the fittest they have been all season which is brilliant and it’s certainly pleasurable to see they are getting through games and finishing them very strongly.
“They have made themselves hard to beat and it adds to us scoring because everyone wants to break forward and score goals. If you are in a good place you want to stay there. I have never rotated my squads, I never give the players a rest unless I have to and at the moment everyone is playing with confidence, they all want to stay in the team and I think we have been helped because everyone knows each other’s game.”
Meanwhile, Tim Clancy’s Easter Road career looks to be over after Derry City boss Roddy Collins revealed he is close to signing the Irish-born defender. Clancy hasn’t played for Hibs since late April having required surgery for a groin problem which had been plaguing him for months and although he has said he’s now fit, he’s been unable to force his way into Butcher’s plans.