ANY appreciation of the work of Terry Butcher at Easter Road begins with mentality.
Butcher's personality is large enough to inhabit Easter Road, but mood alone does not change a team's fortunes. He has implemented organisational and tactical work since leaving Inverness Caledonian Thistle for Hibernian, but it is the work on the psychology of his players that seemed most prominent last Thursday night.
The derby match at Easter Road was following a similar pattern. Hibs were dominating periods of the game, but Hearts were dogged in their defending, grittily addressing the need to repel their opponents at all costs. In the previous two Edinburgh derbies this season, Hearts used these circumstances as a platform to gain 1-0 victories, in the league at Tynecastle and in the League Cup at Easter Road. Yet on Thursday night, in their first fixture in 2014, Hibs found the means to win the game, as well as overcoming the setback of a Hearts equaliser that might have played on any doubts in the minds of Butcher's players.
The manager has long valued the benefits of sports psychology, and has used it as part of his approach to motivating and empowering his players since his time at Motherwell. As well as bringing Maurice Malpas, his assistant, and Steve Marsella, the goalkeeping coach and head scout, to Easter Road, Butcher also engaged David Yeoman to work with the squad. A sports psychologist who assisted Butcher at Inverness, Yeoman is helping some of the Hibs players adopt a more positive mental attitude, particularly with regards to playing at in front of their home fans at Easter Road.
There was no sign of any inhibitions last Thursday night. Hibs might have become fixated on their failure to score, since it took more than an hour to eventually break Hearts' resistance, and they might also have found their will broken by Hearts equalising only 11 minutes later. It is a measure of Butcher's view and approach that he made a point of noting afterwards that his side is now only six points behind his old team, Inverness, and five behind Dundee United, their next opponents in the SPFL Premiership. For Butcher, the onus is always on the progress that can be made, not dwelling on the past. That mindset has already ushered in a change of mentality at Easter Road.
"People might say that in the past we might have crumbled," admitted the young defender, Jordan Forster. "But we had loads of chances first half, scored the goal in the second and then let things go for five minutes.
"It's disappointing to lose a goal in any game let alone a derby, but the mentality we have now is that if a team scores one, we'll go and score two. Football is a funny game and while we struggled for goals, when you score one or two they start to come thick and fast. It's like a bus - you wait on one and two come along at once.
"The way games come thick and fast at this time of year suits us because we can't wait for matches. We're confident going into Sunday's game that we can go to Tannadice and get three points."
That belief will bolstered, too, by the recent stutter of today's hosts. Dundee United had been in imperious form, but have now lost their last three matches and are steadily slipping out of touch in the race for second place. John Rankin, the United midfielder, insists that the older heads in the dressing room - not just the young starlets - need to take their share of the responsibility for the dip in form.
"My experience of playing with young boys is that they are up and down," he said. "They can find it hard to get a steady level of performance. But I thought Soapy [John Souttar] was great getting his goal against Aberdeen and I don't think we should be singling out the younger lads for blame. It is a team effort and there are 11 guys who took responsibility for that defeat. If we can go on a similar run to the one we've just had, we can get back up the league again."