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Hibs' hopes hang by a thread as a number of livelihoods are left on the line

W HEN it comes to ammunition for mockery in football there isn't much to beat a big club toppling into the grubber.

Hibernian have two matches in which to preserve the Premiership status. Picture: SNS
Hibernian have two matches in which to preserve the Premiership status. Picture: SNS

"Sunshine on grief" was the phrase doing the rounds on Twitter within an hour of the latest debacle down at Easter Road. The jackals feasted on more Hibernian blood. While rivals twist the knife and we in the media search for the most condemnatory adjectives to describe this beleaguered club's tailspin, little thought is spared for those too close to see it as a laughing matter. A member of staff was visibly upset inside the ground on Saturday, even apologising for it while trying to maintain business as usual. People could lose their jobs if Hibs are relegated. Those tears were the genuine article.

Scott Robertson looked ashen when he came up to speak to the reporters. If you had anything to do with Hamilton Accies or Falkirk - one of which this lamentable Hibs team will face in the play-offs - you'd have fed off the vibes coming out of Easter Road after Kilmarnock's win. Hibs didn't behave as though they had been sent into a play-off, but like they had already been condemned to the Championship. They were like a death row inmate without the appetite to submit a last appeal.

Imagine the hell of the Hibs training complex today. They should be away on their holidays, like their mates at most other clubs. Instead they have 14 more days of fearing they've produced one of the great Scottish football collapses. Even now the dice is still loaded in their favour. They can rest while their opponents must play two more games to earn the right to face them. The second of the two legs will be at home.

These are the advantages enjoyed by whichever club finishes 11th in the SPFL Premiership. Imagine if Hearts had somehow clawed their way up into second last on the final day of the season: there wouldn't be a bookmaker in the land who would take sizeable money on them failing over two legs in those circumstances. But Hibs? They lack even a sliver of momentum. Since their win in the New Year derby they have been on a decline which seemed largely irrelevant, then became interesting, then became compelling, and now feels irreversible.

Hamilton and Falkirk might pick up injuries or suspensions when they meet in their semi-final tomorrow and on Sunday. Either of them might simply run out of legs having played 43 and 46 games respectively by the time they face Hibs. But one thing that levels Premiership and Championship sides in a play-off is momentum. Accies and Falkirk have averaged one win in every two games this season. Their players are confident and believe in one another. Hibs have won one of their last 19. They're a jittery bag of nerves.

It's been said often enough that these players aren't doing the business for Terry Butcher because he made the mistake of telling them who he fancied and who he didn't, meaning many of them downed tools at a club where they knew they had no future. It would be ignorant to say they didn't try against Kilmarnock. Their failing wasn't down to lack of effort, it was a toxic combination of a mediocre side playing without a shred of confidence, and a manager looking powerless to do anything about it.

The mob who chanted "sack the board", "Petrie out" and, yes, "Butcher out" after the match won't have their demands satisfied any time soon. Believe it or not, they could remain a Premiership club. This demoralising shambles of a campaign need not end with a bullet. Butcher is a media favourite, gives "good copy" and consequently gets an easy ride, but his six months at Hibs have been staggeringly poor. When Kris Boyd repeatedly ghosted away from Jordon Forster where was Butcher, a brilliant defender in his day, to leap from the dug-out to tell him to stay tight?

He now has a fortnight to make himself heard, a fortnight to repay Hibs for appointing him. The club has only one way of saving itself now, and that's by Butcher somehow finding a way to lift players who have dropped like a dead weight. So far, he hasn't looked capable of that.

And Another Thing …

Ann Budge will have made up her mind some time ago about who she wants as Hearts' manager. When she meets Gary Locke today the powerful emotional argument is for him to be given a new contract, as a statement which would begin her reign as chairwoman and the club's preparation for the Championship.

There is a pressing need for a resolution. Hearts' end-of-season results were impressive and there are two ways to interpret that: either Locke and his players are an improving combination, or he had the tools to have kept them up all along and a run of one league win in five months from the end of August reflected poorly on him.

Locke has done enough to deserve to keep a job he loves, and to experience it in a far more stable, supportive context. But even if he gets it today the suspicion will remain that there's a shadow over him, and that Budge is waiting for the opportunity to present Craig Levein as the manager she'd prefer.

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