JAKE MULRANEY, the Hearts winger, admits he required a healthy dose of anger management to reach his full potential as he lauded the impact of sports psychologist John Johnstone Jr on his progress, on and off the pitch.

The 22-year-old endured a challenging start to his Tynecastle career after joining the Edinburgh outfit from Inverness last summer, acknowledging that he struggled to come to terms with the suffocating expectations associated with representing one of Scotland’s biggest clubs.

Mulraney started just three Premiership matches during the first half of the campaign and endured his sliding doors moment during October, a month in which he failed to feature in a single senior squad. He could wilt and sulk, or knuckle down and prove he could handle life in Gorgie.

He steadfastly chose the latter route, putting a particular focus on his mental strength and learning to cope with the demands put on him by the Hearts faithful without allowing his temper to get the best of him.

“I’ve been doing a lot on and off the pitch to give me the best chance possible to get back into the side,” said Mulraney, “A key thing was the mental side of things and this is the strongest I’ve felt mentally in ages.

“It’s was my temper that was a problem. It was really bad, on the pitch rather than off it. I’ve been dealing with that. I know how to cope and deal with certain situations. I’m working with a friend of mine John Johnstone and it’s working well,

“I think the mental side of the game is massive and unfortunately I have only started to realise that now. I’m glad I am working on that as early as I am because I don’t think people really know how important that is.

“There was a moment around October when I was being left out of the team, left out of the squad and I’ve never had that situation before I needed that kick up the backside, to say ‘I need to fix that, sort this’.

“It’s a massive moment in my career and definitely something I needed. It’s only made me better and all this extra work off the pitch has made me better and stronger.”

Reflecting on a period of settling in that he describes as the toughest he has ever endured as a new signing, Mulraney continues: “I didn’t realise how big Hearts were around Edinburgh and I haven’t been used to consistently playing in front of 20,000 every week so it took a while to adjust.

“With the fanbase being so big then they aren’t slow to let you know if things aren’t going well. [Inverness manager] John Robertson spoke to me about the demands and I know what he’s talking about now!”

Mulraney is now beginning to prove he can shoulder that burden. Prior to his resurgence, the last time he had started two successive league matches was August. This evening against Livingston, he is likely to be named in Craig Levein’s 11 for a third game in a row.

As well as cutting a serene figure away from the game, Mulraney has also altered his style when he crosses the white line to satisfy Levein.

As a young man coming through the ranks with Queen’s Park Rangers, the waspish winger drew inspiration from the outrageous flair of Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo, while he even drew comparisons with Aaron Lennon as a teenager.

This term, however, he has learned to go back to basics and is more concerned with bending it like Beckham.

“I asked the manager what he wanted from me and he told me he wants his wide players to get balls into the box, consistently and as well as I can. It’s about simplifying my game,” he added.

“I don’t put pressure on myself to get past the player, I just look to get myself a yard to put in the cross and it’s working.

“I don’t really need coaching to do the extras that are needed. I just need a bag of balls! Shift it, cross; shift it, cross. I think David Beckham just used to whip it in every time, so if you’re good enough at that . . .

“When I was young I used to idolise Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo. Those were the ones I liked to watch. I loved the tricks. That hasn’t drifted out of my game completely but my game is more simplified now.”

Meanwhile, Levein, who confirmed that talks are ongoing with Arnaud Djoum and Steven Naismith with a view to extending the pair’s stay beyond this summer, could name Uche Ikpeazu on the bench tonight after the towering striker recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him for the past four months.

Meanwhile, Declan Gallagher insists Livingston can get their mojo back by fighting for their Premiership lives again.

The Lions have suffered an alarming dip in form in recent weeks and have endured five straight defeats in a worrying run of seven games without a win.

Despite back-to-back 3-0 defeats against Motherwell and Rangers, their stunning early-season record means they still sit eighth in the table ahead of this evening’s trip to face Hearts at Tynecastle.

They are a massive 18 points ahead of St Mirren at the bottom and 15 points above Hamilton Accies in 10th with almost two-thirds of the campaign over.

But Gallagher reckons the Almondvale men need to ignore any thoughts they are already safe the top-flight and must keep avoiding the drop as their number one goal this term.

He said: “Our mindset is still don’t go down.

“Obviously, people are saying it’s not possible but at the end of the day that’s the way you have to think at a club like this.

“We’re the smallest financed club in the league. Clubs like Dundee, St Mirren and Hamilton all recruited in January, with some big names and a lot of money spent.

“Yes, we recruited but it was more maybe loans or free transfers, and with the amount of signings they’ve made and the amount we’ve made we’re still a pretty small and young squad.

“I don’t think we’ve ever got it in our minds that we’re not going to get sucked into that fight.

“We have to keep thinking about doing the right things against the bigger teams and not thinking ‘they’re just a wee team and we’re a big team’. That won’t be the case this season for us.

“Teams are now starting to show us a bit of respect, in terms of the way they’re shaping up against us. They’re starting to shape up to nullify our strengths, which is massive respect to what all our boys have done this season.

“I think we’ve maybe taken our foot of the gas as well a wee bit, thinking that because we’re up so high we should be playing better stuff.

“Whereas, really, we should just be sticking to what we’re good at and trying to be a hard team to beat instead of going out their thinking we could maybe take three points from this game.

“We need to get back to basics and think we have to be hard to beat and then try to win the game.”

Livingston were the first team to take points off high-flying Hearts in the league when they eked out a goalless draw at Tynecastle in September.

Their incredible 5-0 hammering of the Jambos in December was then followed up by a narrow 1-0 defeat in the Scottish Cup after the winter break last month.

Gallagher insists Hearts were always going to get stronger with the return of some key performers, but he still believes Livi can cause another upset tonight.

He added: “Hearts are a good team and they should be title contenders with the players they’ve got in their team.

“Obviously, injuries hurt their season so they are a different team to the one we played here in the 5-0 game, there’s no doubt about it.

“Getting Steven Naismith back and the signings they’ve made have strengthened them. John Souttar coming back into the squad as well, he’s a big presence for them along with Christophe Berra.

“You expect them to be up challenging.

“But, at the same time, we have matched them on their best spell. We matched them at Tynecastle with a 0-0, which was a great result. We were the first team to take points off them in the season

“The boys have to take confidence from that going into the game because it’s not impossible to take something from them.”