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Bright talent is not left in the shade at Easter Road

Once a pair of rugged, no-nonsense defenders, you would expect Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas, the management team at Hibernian, to be able to set up a team that knows how to stop the opposition scoring.

Terry Butcher, right, and Maurice Malpas first worked together at Tannadice. Picture: SNS
Terry Butcher, right, and Maurice Malpas first worked together at Tannadice. Picture: SNS

The pair became firm friends at Tannadice - Dundee United travel to Easter Road tonight - when Butcher was brought in as part as Tommy McLean's coaching staff and Malpas was the enthusiastic, though perhaps over-industrious, club captain.

At the time, recalls Butcher, Malpas did everything at the club. At training, he packed the hampers; he unpacked the hampers. He also happened to drive the rickety old minivan, with its trailer for shifting goalposts around. So when it comes to parking the bus tonight at Easter Road in order to quell the recently rediscovered attacking dynamism of United, Butcher knows exactly who should be handed the keys.

"He worked his nuts off for that club," recalls Butcher of the younger Malpas, how his assistant at Hibs. "He used to drive the bus as well. To reverse it around the corner and into this garage near the ground . . . it was only me or Maurice who could do it without pranging it."

The Hibs manager is looking forward to seeing the latest class of graduates from the Hibs academy take on their counterparts from United this evening. The likes of Alex Harris, Danny Handling and in-form Sam Stanton have settled in the spotlight in recent weeks, much like Andrew Robertson, Ryan Gauld and John Souttar did earlier in the season.

But Butcher suspects that United's decision to send Gauld and Souttar off for a little mid-season sunshine break to the Iberian peninsula was one that might not have gone down so well in the Easter Road boardroom.

"I don't think [club chairman] Mr Petrie would allow that!" he joked. "When I was young many years ago all you wanted to do was play. They have a boundless energy about them, they want to play. I think United got beaten when they gave their boys a holiday.

"I would not knock the hype or publicity Dundee United's young players have been getting, because it has been well warranted. They are exciting young players. But our boys have quietly entered the Premiership and done well too. I am delighted with the way they have handled the transition and different managers.

"The average age of our starting XI was 24 last week, which is the third youngest in the league, behind Dundee United and Hearts."

For all that United's academy has been rightly praised, those in charge of scouting should take almost as much credit for this remarkable crop of youngsters. Robertson - plucked from Queen's Park in the summer - was this week given his inaugural Scotland call-up ahead of Wednesday's trip to Poland, but Curtis Good, the young Australian defender, has also gained international recognition since he arrived on loan at Tayside in January.

"When you start playing football as a kid that's what you want to end up doing - playing for your national side," said the on-loan Newcastle United defender. "It's been important that I have been playing regular games for United. My aim before coming up here was to play week-in, week-out, and I knew that I would get that opportunity here. The loan deal has turned out really well for me. I knew Australian players had come to Scotland and done well before."

His call-up has delighted his family back in Melbourne, who had initially been reluctant to let the young player make the journey to the northern hemisphere in search of footballing immortality. "They have all been very happy to hear the news," he grinned.

"They are maybe a bit shocked as well. [The match against Ecuador] will be shown on television back home so they can see the game while they are eating breakfast."

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