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Final push underway as troops hear from the top

THINGS at Hibernian must be even worse than their fans suspected:

Paul Cairney, left, and Alex Harris compete at training yesterday. Picture: Alan Rennie/SNS
Paul Cairney, left, and Alex Harris compete at training yesterday. Picture: Alan Rennie/SNS

when the players were given a pep talk, the man chosen for the job was Rod Petrie. If the taciturn and morose club chairman has a talent for motivational speaking then he has previously done a quite extraordinary job of keeping it to himself.

Actually, describing Petrie as morose is unfair, because he says so little in public that there is an inadequate body of evidence to make any sort of judgment on his personality. No gospel halls will be hosting "an evening with Rod Petrie" any time soon, though.

A level of discomfort and reluctance to place himself in the spotlight is obvious, which made it all the more surprising that he agreed to address the beleaguered Hibs players before last weekend's derby against Hearts.

They lost, but then they've been losing every week for what seems like an eternity, so no blame could be attached to him for that. The invitation to him to come to the club's training ground and speak to the troops came from Terry Butcher, the manager and an individual on the polar opposite end of the personality spectrum to his chairman. "He came in and talked to the players. He gave a 'ra ra' speech," Butcher explained yesterday, the mental image of the latter landing rather heavily on the assembled hacks. "It was very good. We did one or two things, we got a DVD of Hearts matches, and what we have done ourselves. The chairman came down and watched training, which I don't think he has ever done before. It wasn't at his instigation. I invited him.

"I think we will try and do that more with directors and supporters next year and let people see what the players do and how we actually go about our work, because they employ me but they don't see how I work. They see it on a Saturday but they do not see day-to-day work, and what we do. So I thought it was good of the chairman to come down. It shows we are all in it together and it showed a great unity, I felt. I just felt it was the right thing to do. The chairman has been great, he has said 'anything you want, do you need this, do you need that?' He has been really supportive. And he has really helped me.

"At the end of the DVD I said to him 'do you want to say a few words?' He said some very, very good words. But last week was done not just for last week and the derby match. The preparation and the build up was done for the derby and also these three games as well."

No-one around Hibs needs any explanation about the games he meant: Partick Thistle at Easter Road tomorrow, Ross County in Dingwall on Tuesday night, and Kilmarnock in Leith again a week on Sunday. Hibs are in real danger of being dragged into the play-offs: they are level with Ross County and Partick Thistle, a point behind St Mirren and one above Kilmarnock.

Butcher may have been pleased with the impression made by Petrie but getting the chairman down to the training ground at Tranent was the sort of gimmick a manager tries when he's desperate to stop a rot.

All the tombstones of Hibs' recent form are wearingly familiar: one win in 16 games, none in the last ten, six defeats in a row. Butcher remains a beacon of calm positivity, though.

Yesterday he reiterated that he had been encouraged and buoyed by their performance in the derby, despite Hearts winning it 2-1.

"When you are in our position and losing two goals a game you're thinking what's the team going to be next week. You're not in despair, but you're frustrated and disappointed. But when you get a performance like that it's what you really want.

"I know we didn't win the game and lost to two set pieces but the overall way we played was very good and the attitude and intensity in our game was shown by the fact our foul count was 2:1 compared to Hearts.

"We got stuck in, which is what the fans want to see and what we want to see a lot more of. We also played some decent stuff. When you have that it gives you a ray of hope, glimmer of optimism and confidence for me and the players.

"They're frustrated. The senior players stood up very well last week. They were strong and it must be the case in the next three games. Anything less than the way we played against Hearts would be wrong. I said to the players after the game that I have terrific confidence in us and in you as a set of players to go and get the results and the necessary points in the next three games to keep us in this league. That pleases me enormously and hopefully if it pleases me then that can be transmitted to the players."

Butcher did not work with Leanne Dempster at Motherwell. He had left as manager before she arrived as chief executive. Hibs have headhunted her to start in the same position for them, from June 1.

"A great addition", said Butcher. Before she arrives, it's up to him to determine whether she's taking the reins at a Premiership club or a Championship one.

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