THERE has been little prospect of any sunshine on Leith of late.

Instead the mood in that area of Edinburgh has been darkened by ominous cloud, a run of form which comprises just two wins this calendar year offering only a forecast of enduring discomfort. Hibernian are just three points above the relegation play-off place in the SPFL Premiership and are dropping as steadily as rainfall.

It is a wonder that Terry Butcher does not walk the halls of Easter Road with an umbrella opened above his head. It is unlikely that the Hibs manager could feel any more unlucky as it is. Club captain James McPake is still sidelined and will not feature in the Edinburgh derby tomorrow, while midfielder Scott Robertson might also miss out having recovered from a knee injury only recently. Paul Heffernan is another ruled out through injury.

Loading article content

The Hibs squad has seen better days, although those will seem harder to recall after supporters chose to shut their eyes and wait for this sorry season to be over. The last time that the Easter Road side came up against their city rivals - at the end of last month - there were songs revelling in Hearts' misfortunes, but Hibs might have considered asking quietly for clemency from their neighbours this time around.

Easter Road has echoed with disenchantment, both from supporters and a squad strained by its proximity to the play-off. Both Kevin Thomson and Ben Williams have criticised the mentality of their team-mates; each of them having a kick at Hibs' soft underbelly and a lack of fight. The intention was that such harsh words would sting them into action, although the Butcher acknowledged yesterday that it has also brought his players closer.

That is a small step but it could also be a significant one since there have been occasions this season when even Humpty Dumpty had held it together better. His fall had not been quite so interminable either.

Butcher is quite aware that his side cannot afford to be seen as soft when they step out at Easter Road tomorrow. "They were Ben's words, not my words, but he certainly had a cause to say that and a reason to say that," said the Hibs manager. "You can't be soft in derby matches, that's for sure, and we won't be. So, it's quite relevant and I'm sure the players took that on board.

"But from what I've seen so far, they've certainly not been soft when it comes to the training, because I think everybody wants to get into the team. They look like they want to kick their way into the team.

"Ben didn't miss with his comments. Some of [Thomson's] quotes this week have been very good as well, about sticking the chest out and showing more pride. That's terrific. From the senior players, we've had a terrific response. From everybody, really, but particularly from the senior ones, because they are looking at this game in particular and saying: 'let's lead from the front'. The senior players are doing just that when it comes to the training and everything else."

Among their number is Michael Nelson, a player who has assumed the roles of both defender and dumpling at times this season. Now 34, the Englishman is mature enough to handle criticism of his ability, but he still seemed a little chided to have his commitment questioned last week.

"I don't mind if anyone thinks I'm a bad a player. People can tell me I'm terrible, that's their opinion, I'm not bothered about that," said Nelson. "But people questioning your commitment and desire? It's one of the worst things you could ever level at me."

Hibs fans will feel the same way about being referred to as the losers of a derby should their team falter tomorrow. Butcher does at least know what it takes to win an Edinburgh derby, having led his side to victory at his first try - Hibs edging the match 2-1 in January. "In the preparations this week you can sense it's a derby game straight away," the Englishman added. "There's an eagerness, a desire and a spring in players' steps. It's lovely, really good.

"In a way, there's no need to get them up for this one. If you're not up for a derby match, with the circumstances surrounding this derby match, you never will be. It's amazing how the tables have turned. I've seen both sides of the coin [in the Edinburgh derby]. I definitely know which one I want to see on Sunday. When you win you're on such a high."

Perhaps even high enough to get above the clouds having over Easter Road. Even just for an afternoon.