ALI CRAWFORD lit the touchpaper on the SPFL Premiership play-off final last night by predicting that Hibernian will be quivering with fear at a Hamilton Academical side primed to go straight for the jugular from the very first whistle.
Terry Butcher, meanwhile, said he would take that touchpaper and pin it up on the Hibs dressing room wall.
Crawford, the Hamilton midfielder, knows just how fragile confidence will be within the Easter Road squad as they endeavour to halt an horrific run of form that has brought just one win in 19 outings. He is convinced Hibs are running scared of Hamilton and believes the best way to strike at the heart of their weaknesses in tonight's first leg meeting at New Douglas Park is to maintain the same merciless approach that has brought 12 goals in their last three games.
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"Hibs came out and said that they didn't fancy playing us out of the remaining Championship teams," he pointed out. "They are going to be coming here wary of how good we are and we have been playing well.
"That would strike fear into anybody. Hibs should be wary coming here if they look at our results from the last couple of weeks. We will go into the match as underdogs and we have nothing to lose. Hibs have been struggling of late, as everyone knows. Their confidence will be low.
"If we can score early and put pressure on them, we don't know if they will handle it or not. I'd say momentum counts for a lot. When you are playing for a team that is struggling to get a win and goes a goal down early on, you automatically think: 'Here we go - we are going to get beaten again'.
"It has got to be our mentality to go out and see if we can unsettle them. It is imperative we go out early and try to score as it will put doubts into their heads. All the pressure is on Hibs. Personally, I didn't think it would be Hibs in the play-off. I thought it would be Kilmarnock or St Mirren.
"Hibs just haven't been playing well enough to save themselves and it is now our task to relegate them."
Hamilton returned to using an artificial surface at New Douglas Park this season and Crawford believes, even though the Premiership side have been using the plastic pitch at Spartans to fine tune their preparations, that will give them a very definite edge.
"It plays into our hands because every Premiership team plays on grass," said Crawford. "I am sure Hibs have access to places with astrograss pitches and they can train, but we have been doing it all season. We will be more capable of getting the ball down and playing and it will be an advantage for us."
Hamilton have scored the same amount of goals in their last three matches as Hibs have managed in their last 15. Crawford believes that must count for something when hostilities commence.
"That's a good fact," he said. "Our team will always create chances. It is just a matter of whether we take them.
"I played a few games in the season we were relegated, but this is a chance for us to get back there and be where we belong."
Butcher has been keeping a close eye on what the Hamilton players have been saying and revealed he will take some of their pre-match press coverage and pin it on the Hibs dressing room walls before tonight's first leg.
He refused to say which remarks had got under his players' skin ahead of the match. But over the past 48 hours Martin Canning, the Hamilton defender, was quoted saying: "You can say we are of a positive frame of mind and they are negative."
Their striker, Tony Andreu, said "we don't have to fear Hibs" and player/manager Alex Neil said he would not want
to be in Butcher's shoes.
Butcher has 180 minutes - the second leg is at Easter Road on Sunday - to keep Hibs in the Premiership. He was complimentary about their Championship opponents but admitted some of their camp's remarks had hit home.
"It's a great challenge against Hamilton," he said.
"They have earned the right to match up against us. I know they are looking forward to
it and I've read their comments with great interest. They will
be on our dressing room wall.
"We're seen one or two things and taken note, but
talk is cheap. People say
things but it's not about
talk, it's about action.
"Our players are fired up because we are in a position we don't want to be in. Now
we are here we will get on with things and make the best of it."