AHEAD of the challenge posed by Hamilton Academical tonight, Hibernian warmed up by trying to scythe down the doubters and the doom-mongers.

One word radiated from their East Mains training ground yesterday: positivity.

They were more positive than a row of nodding Churchill dogs; more positive than a primary one class writing letters to Santa.

Loading article content

"For too long there has been a negativity about this club that needs to be lifted," said full-back Alan Maybury. "I have said to the manager I am sick of it. We are on a bad run of results, there is a doom and gloom about the place.

"Instead of everyone having their heads down and worrying about things, we have an opportunity to go out and play, rather than going into our shell. The season should be done and dusted but this is how it is, so there's no moaning."

It is natural to assume that Hibs' last 10 days have been quite unpleasant. While their pals at most other clubs have been hitting sunny beaches, they have been left to deal with a sewage spill of their own making. For months it has been speculated that their dressing room is downbeat because most of the players suspect they will not be with the club next season.

Since losing to Kilmarnock, and eating into what might have been their holiday time, morale can only have deteriorated further. Above all there is the gnawing fear of relegation.

After that Kilmarnock game around 100 Hibs fans stood outside Easter Road's entrance and chanted against chairman Rod Petrie, the board as a whole, and manager Terry Butcher. Butcher needed no personal abuse to make him feel any worse about the 1-0 defeat which condemned them to this two-leg play-off against Hamilton.

The following morning he took his dog for a long, contemplative walk - he did the contemplating, not the dog - and resolved to apply a defibrillator to Hibs' season.

The players were taken in for training as usual the following Monday morning and then later in the week he took them for sessions at Spartans' Ainslie Park ground in Edinburgh. The intention was to familiarise them with the sort of artificial pitch they will face at New Douglas Park tonight (they would have played on an artificial surface if Falkirk had won the play-off semi-final too), and also to shake up their familiar routine.

"It's been great, if it can be great under the circumstances," said Butcher, riffing on the positivity theme again. "You've got to look beyond any doom and gloom we felt after the Kilmarnock game.

"There certainly was a lot of that going about. We had to get rid of that pretty quick and look forward to this game. I had to get over it pretty quick because as a manager you are responsible for the club, the players, and even for jobs. I know what it's like, if you are relegated it takes a long time to get over it."

Taking them to Spartans was a calculated attempt to lighten the mood. "You try and make it enjoyable and by changing the venue and the routine you can make things different. You change the atmosphere, the approach, everything. You can say 'we'll do this or do that' but it hasn't worked for us before [in the poor form this year].

"So we were down at Easter Road and saw the staff there and got fed by the chef, so there was a good atmosphere. It's been bright and bubbly since that. I know that sounds strange when you've finished in 11th spot after the run we were on but it's a whole new championship now. Our league is two games and we want to come out on top if we can.

"I've seen no negativity after the Kilmarnock game, none at all. In fact we banished any negative thoughts. How did we do that? We work hard, we get them scoring goals, which has been rare for us but it's been good in training. When you are on a run like we have been on you forget what it's like to win, what it feels like to score. But that can come back in a flash."

The worry for Hibs fans is that their team might be positive and rubbish. They can be as upbeat as they like, but if they defend as they have in recent games - and attack as impotently - Hamilton will surely be coming to Easter Road on Sunday with a lead. The first leg is an intriguing contest between a team used to winning and one that us forgotten what a good result feels like. Hamilton have lost only one of their last 15 games, Hibs have won only one of their last 19. Over their last 10 games Hamilton have scored 33 goals to Hibs' three. The game is hard to call.

Butcher, who has Kevin Thomson and Paul Heffernan available again, was asked if he had ever faced two bigger fixtures as a manager, given the consequences of losing.

"It's not about my managerial career, it is about the future of this club. That is more important than anything. I don't know in concrete terms what consequences would be [of relegation]. I don't know. We've not talked about that.

"But the players and everyone else is very much aware of the significance because you live it all the time. It fills your sandwiches and you clean your teeth with it.

"It's is omnipresent. We want it to go away and it will on Sunday if we come out on top."