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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Missing Brazil but looking forward to Euro 2016

After failing to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil, the focus for Scotland is to build a team that could make the finals of Euro 2016 in France.

With results continuing to improve, manager Gordon Strachan will be using a relatively young squad as he aims to make it through qualification for the major tournament.

Leigh Griffiths is a player who can really shine for the team ahead of 2016. The Celtic striker moved to the Scottish Premier League from Wolves earlier this year and since then has done well in the top flight in Scotland.

If he can transfer his club form where he scored seven goals in 14 games - and stay clear of off field distractions - he could find himself as a regular starter and finish the qualifying campaign as their top goalscorer which can be backed with Betfair.

Ross McCormack has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs this summer. The Leeds forward is now a regular for Scotland and will feature throughout the qualifying campaign. He is usually popular in the first goalscorer market at Betfair.

McCormack made his debut for his country in 2008 but struggled to hold his place in the squad. As soon as Strachan was appointed as Scotland manager, he recalled 27-year old back and has been a regular ever since.

Scotland Euro 2016, the Scottish Football Blog
Strachan will also be hoping the experience of Steven Naismith will be beneficial as Scotland look to qualify for France. The former Rangers player has been at Everton since 2012 and was part of the Toffees side which just fell short of the Champions League last season.

Naismith currently has three international goals to his name. His first came against Spain in 2010, while more recently he has also found the back of the net against Lithuania and Croatia to reward backers with Betfair.

In midfield, Scott Brown still has an important role to play. He is one of the most experienced players in the squad and will captain the side once again in Euro 2016 qualification.
Brown helped Celtic win their third straight SPL title last season. They are favourites with Betfair to make it four leagues on the spin in their next campaign.

The centre of defence has become something of a problem position for Strachan and Grant Hanley is likely to be given a chance to shine, despite the fact he is still relatively inexperienced at international level. The 22-year old has 13 caps to his name and did play English Premier League football for Blackburn between 2009 and 2012.