TERRY BUTCHER'S future as manager of Hibernian was shrouded in uncertainty last night with officials at the relegated Edinburgh club understood to be planning further talks on his position later today.
Meetings staged by Leeann Dempster, the club's new chief executive, took place yesterday evening, but no comment was issued at their conclusion as speculation grew that Butcher is in real danger of being relieved of his duties.
Easter Road sources insisted late last night that the 55-year-old Englishman is still in situ as manager, but said there will be further discussions within a matter of hours as Dempster studies the overall operation of the footballing department in preparation for the challenges of next season's SPFL Championship.
Butcher took over from Pat Fenlon last November and signed a three-year contract, bringing his assistant Maurice Malpas with him from Inverness Caledonian Thistle along with the coach and scout Steve Marsella.
However, he was unable to prevent the team from capitulating to 11th place in the Premiership after an appalling run of form that brought just one win in 19 fixtures.
Despite securing a 2-0 victory in the first leg of the relegation play-off away to Hamilton Academical, Butcher's side lost the return leg 2-0 at home and their fate was sealed in a penalty shoot-out.
Butcher declined to resign after the match and believes he can bring the club back up at the first time of asking, as he did from the old First Division with Inverness Caledonian Thistle, but Dempster cast doubt on his future last week, having completed her own move from Motherwell. She said she had still been in charge at Fir Park when she first met Butcher at the club's East Mains training ground immediately after relegation and pointed out that "no decisions or formal discussions could take place" at that time.
Butcher has since returned from a family holiday, but the lack of any sort of endorsement from those above him in the Easter Road pecking order has heightened the pressure on his shoulders and created further, serious doubt over his position.
Dempster has been unwilling to comment on Butcher's position following the interview on the club's in-house TV station that initially sharpened the focus on the exact degree of his job security. She has been firefighting furiously since becoming chief executive with a campaign having been launched - fronted by former player Paul Kane and backed by other respected figures such as Pat Stanton, Jimmy O'Rourke and Jackie McNamara - to oust the disliked chairman Rod Petrie.
Kane has also revealed he is seeking to contact the club's owner Sir Tom Farmer to increase pressure on him to remove Petrie, who has a 10% stake in the club, from his position. Dempster has been at pains to point out that she has been given carte blanche by Petrie to run the club in the way she sees fit and is believed to have made it clear she will walk away from her own position should there be any interference.
She does not, though, possess the power to remove Petrie and has said the club bowing to public pressure and insisting upon his departure would be "a simplistic approach and probably an unfair one."