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Failure to keep Hibs in top flight was entirely the fault of Butcher

THE temptation at a time like this is to lay into Hibs again, to mock, to describe them as a shredder of managerial reputations, to liken Easter Road to a graveyard for football men who arrive with talent and optimism.

Former manager cannot blame the 'anti-Midas' touch at Easter Road for the decision to sack him
Former manager cannot blame the 'anti-Midas' touch at Easter Road for the decision to sack him

In addition to all the recent headstones - Pat Fenlon, Colin Calderwood, John Hughes - there was fresh work for the engraver yesterday when Terry Butcher was brought down. Hibs: serial sackers, a club with the opposite of a Midas touch, with the power to corrode and ruin everyone they appoint.

That is the temptation, but it does not tell the story of Butcher's dreadful reign and swift dismissal yesterday. Butcher is impossible to dislike for those who encounter him regularly and hopefully he will be back in Scottish football before long, but that can be said without compromising the fact that the failure of the last seven months was his fault, not the fault of the club which employed him. Hibs were struggling when he took them over and he was paid to make them better. He made them much worse.

What happened at Easter Road 17 days ago was a very personal failure. Hibs had won the away leg of their SPFL Premiership play-off 2-0 against Hamilton. The tie ought to have been done-and-dusted. It was not about mediocre players or limited resources in that second leg, it was simply a case of getting into a group of players' heads, relaxing them, reinforcing their self-belief, putting a spring in their step, seeing the job through. Man-management has been one of Butcher's great strengths in those sections of his career which have worked well, and that was what was required of him on that afternoon. But his touch, as it had almost since day one with Hibs, deserted him. They were a bag of nerves after Hamilton pulled an early goal back and Butcher seemed powerless to do anything about it, as he had been for weeks.

Hibs were not some sort of hopeless, out-of-their depth lost cause when he took over. They were seventh when he was appointed and no-one thought them relegation candidates. Yes, they had been a dreary side under Pat Fenlon but they took points off Dundee United and St Johnstone, who finished in the top six, and held Celtic at Easter Road. Over the following months under Butcher they became a car crash to the extent that cynics - and eventually realists too - did not think them liable to beat anyone at all. One SPFL Championship club put them out of the cup at Easter Road and another one put them out of the league.

The football was poor, often dreadfully so, but what really silenced anyone claiming that Butcher would turn things around was the obvious lack of confidence and morale among his players. Letting it be known that Kevin Thomson and Tom Taiwo could go, only to then bring them back, seemed unusually clumsy from such an experienced manager. His whole reign was haunted by a suspicion that he had alienated a lot of players by dropping hints that they had no long-term future at the club.

It was as if he had lost his touch, lost whatever mojo it was that made Motherwell and Inverness such conspicuous successes when he managed them with Maurice Malpas as his assistant. Butcher's has been an odd managerial career and in many ways hard to assess. Failure at Coventry City and Sunderland, a hit at Motherwell, failure again at Sydney and Brentford, a big success in Inverness, now another black mark at Hibs. Until yesterday all his failures had come when he did not have Malpas at his side, but now the pair of them share their first sackings as a partnership. It would be good to see them back soon, if it is as the seasoned, sure-footed double act which has been so successful in the past.

There was puzzlement and criticism of Hibs yesterday for sacking the manager a fortnight after he had had an input to releasing 14 players. Why dismiss them if a new manager might see a use for some of them, it was said. In truth, what happened a fortnight ago was the day of reckoning for players who had not been good enough for the job they were employed to perform. Yesterday the same applied to the manager and Butcher was tossed on to the pile of casualties.

He did not get long: just 29 games, more than half of which ended in defeat. When he spoke on the day of their relegation he sounded broken, openly admitting that falling into the Championship might cost him his job. He said so without bitterness, but also without defiance.

He sounded like a man who would be depressed and frustrated and hurt if the axe fell, but also one who could not really have any complaints.

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