Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hibs: What's next?

Back in March as I considered Terry Butcher’s impact at Hibs for Norway's pre-eminent Hibernian fanzine, I wrote that, were the unthinkable relegation to happen, I'd:

“Go down to North Berwick and cast him adrift off the Bass Rock myself.”

At the time I thought he’d avoid relegation. I was wrong.

And now he has been cast adrift. He might not be floating off the Fife coast but Butcher has gone. The latest in a long line of Hibs managers to hurry or be harried to the exit door with unseemly haste.

It was hard to see how he could survive. Relegation is bad enough but the nature of this relegation, that awful run of form, the failure of everything Butcher tried, made it even worse. This wasn't a plucky manager inspiring a struggling team as they narrowly failed to pull off a great escape.

This was a manager of a team that was limited but apparently safe. A manager tunnelling that team right back into the heart of trouble.

Would Pat Fenlon have kept Hibs up? On the evidence his part season he would have. On the evidence of all his time in charge it's a moot point, Fenlon would in all likelihood have run into another dip in form and Rod Petrie would have let him go before he got the chance to preside over a run as calamitous as Butcher's. For all that his recent interviews have suggested Fenlon feels somewhat vindicated, he would probably also admit that he was running out of lives at Hibs.

So Fenlon went and Butcher arrived. And shortly after beating Hearts at the start of the year it went horribly wrong. So horribly wrong that Raith Rovers have enjoyed as many victories at Easter Road as Hibs have in 2014. It feels like achieving that sort of statistical anomaly is so difficult as to be almost impressive.

Butcher’s experience at Inverness - down, straight back up and consolidated in the Premiership - looked to be his trump card in the fight to keep his job. On the other hand he wasn't brought to Hibs to battle his way into and then out of the Championship.

Terry Butcher was a wretched manager for Hibs. That's the succinct story of his time at Easter Road. His impact might be long remembered but there won't be much fondness. Talking the talk, he looked like someone who could galvanise a club that seems to drift rather than plan, panic rather than strategise. He failed at almost every turn.

Yesterday he paid the price.

But, if form dictated that this was the most justified of any of the multitude of Easter Road dismissals, Hibs now stand at another crossroads. And don't, as yet, give much impression of knowing where they're going. They've lost their Premiership status, they've lost their manager and you do wonder if they've also lost the plot.

14 players have been shipped out since relegation. Others look like following.

Pre-season training is just weeks away.

Season ticket sales have slowed.

Not enough players, no manager, reduced funds and the added cost of the Butcher experiment going haywire.

The malaise is amplified by the ongoing desire to see the back of Rod Petrie, a campaign that seems to have struck a chord with a hefty enough chunk of the support.

While many among the Petrie Out camp will be glad to see the back of Terry Butcher they'll also have noted that Rod Petrie's name cropped up in yesterday's statement from the club.

Does Rod Petrie’s non-involvement, the stepping back from the front line that has been promised in this latest summer of change, actually involve Rod being somewhat involved after all?

Did Rod simply let Terry Butcher have the awkward conversations with the departing players then let new chief executive Leeann Dempster have the awkward conversation with the departing Terry Butcher without ever planning to relinquish that much control?

Everything about Rod Petrie these days is open to interpretation and conjecture. And most of the conclusions aren't that charitable. At best he's now a distraction that Hibs could do without. Terry Butcher has to be his last expensive mistake.

The feeling within Easter Road might have been that sacking Butcher two weeks on from relegation would be a way of lancing the boil, letting some of the vitriol aimed at Petrie drain away.

If that was the plan, I’m not so sure it’s going to work.

Yesterday Leeann Dempster gave the impression of being unhurried in both the decision to dismiss Butcher and in the hunt for his successor. You have to hope she was bluffing.

I’d like to think work has being going on behind the scenes, the sort of work that could see a new manager unveiled by the end of the week. A new non-executive chairman would also be a boost and, at the very least, remove Rod Petrie from the public eye.

Then Leeann Dempster and her new appointment need to offer a coherent and cohesive long term plan while bringing in players as quickly as possible.

That’s a hell of a job. Getting it right could offer a new dawn. Get it wrong and Hibs will continue to stumble around in the darkness.