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Players to blame, not Butcher . . .

TERRY BUTCHER has made one or two decisions he may have cause to question as his Hibernian team slides inexorably towards the SPFL Premiership play-offs.

Jonny Hayes says that Terry Butcher was like a father figure to the players while they both were at Inverness. Picture: SNS
Jonny Hayes says that Terry Butcher was like a father figure to the players while they both were at Inverness. Picture: SNS

In the wake of a 3-1 defeat at Partick last month, he threatened to start playing a team full of kids because, in his own words, "at least they are honest". Since then, rumours of, shall we say, friction in the camp have started to appear as fact in the most public of arenas.

His goalkeeper Ben Williams branded the squad "soft and spoiled" and sparked an exchange with Michael Nelson, a fellow who looks as though he still eats pint tumblers at the end of a night out even if crunching centre-forwards no longer seems his forte.

Butcher's current truce with Kevin Thomson seems ever so slightly uneasy as well. The midfielder, seemingly prepared to point out he was available for selection, suggests you ask the manager why he was used only sparingly until recently. Butcher says "he wasn't fit".

Whatever the true state of dressing-room relations, it seems unthinkable that players drilled by this 55-year-old embodiment of English bulldog spirit, one of the finest centre-halves of his generation, should find themselves conceding two simple goals to set-pieces the way they did in Sunday's costly 2-1 Edinburgh derby defeat at Easter Road.

Jonny Hayes, who rebuilt his career thanks to Butcher at Inverness Caledonian Thistle and witnessed some spectacular tirades behind closed-doors, dreads to think how his former manager reacted to the sight of Callum Paterson being afforded the opportunity to put a couple of free headers into the net and move Hibs ever closer to the trapdoor.

Hayes opts not to cast doubt on some of the calls Butcher has made since taking over the poisoned chalice left by poor little Pat Fenlon back in November. It is the decision he made to swap the Moray Firth for the waters of Leith in the first place that Hayes reflects upon with a degree of bemusement.

"I don't know what was said behind the scenes, but I was surprised he went," said Hayes, now starring with Aberdeen after leaving the Highland capital himself under freedom of contract two seasons back. "No disrespect to Hibs, but I think he is better than that.

"He did a tremendous job at Inverness and took them from the First Division to challenging for a European place. Hibs are a bigger club, but I don't think they are as good a team."

The Premiership table does not lie. They are nowhere near as good a team as Inverness. Their most pressing problem, though, is that they possess the look of a side that would melt like a chocolate fireguard should results conspire to plunge them into the fiery pit that is the end-of-season play-offs.

Butcher has been in place at Easter Road now for nearly six months. His team, with six straight losses and one win from 15 on their record, appears to be getting worse rather than better.

When asking Hayes whether his mentor must take at least some of the blame for that, he turns attention back towards those the one-time Motherwell manager finds himself working with in his new dressing-room.

When it comes to considering what has gone so badly wrong at the Edinburgh club, all roads, it seems, lead to the playing staff.

"I don't think it is down to the manager," said Hayes. "I think it is down to the players. If they do go down, it won't be from lack of effort from him. I know how disappointed the manager and Maurice Malpas got when we lost a game at Inverness. We were newly promoted and nothing was expected of us in an away game against Celtic.

"We only lost 1-0 and, yet, he was so disappointed. He had one of his famous rants and that was after we played well, so I can't imagine how he would have been feeling after the Edinburgh derby.

"Terry would probably put me through a wall the next time he sees me if I told you about his team talks, but they were highly motivational and he's a manager I loved working for. I could never say a bad word about Terry and that's why I say the rut is not down to him.

"I don't suppose it helps with players having a go at each other. I know Terry is big on dressing-room spirit and he led by example at Inverness. I'm sure he'll look forward to the transfer window when he can bring his own team.

"I know it's a harsh game and someone has to get relegated. For the sake of the manager, I hope it's not Hibs. I hope he is given time."

Hayes certainly knows of Butcher's track record in breathing life into lost causes, mind you.

The Irishman was anything but a model professional when he turned up at the Caledonian Stadium after being released by Leicester City in 2009 and was quickly whipped into shape. "I'd come up from England and, maybe, I didn't live the right lifestyle when I was a younger lad," he admitted. "I wasn't as professional as I am now.

"I was honest with him when I signed for Inverness about what I'd been like and Terry took me under his wing, and a few other lads, such as Richie Foran. He looked after us like his own children.

"If anything happened outside of football, he'd make sure it was put right and that made him a father figure to us. Terry is a brilliant man manager. When you are in Inverness and you felt like you were a million miles away, he built the spirit and I don't think they would be where they are now without him."

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