Maurice Malpas insists Hibs will only start to prosper once the players become mentally strong – and the assistant manager hopes to see evidence of a tougher mindset in tonight’s crucial trip to Inverness.
Since arriving at Easter Road four months ago, Malpas and Terry Butcher have been impressed with the ability of the squad they inherited, but have been alarmed at how they have struggled to handle certain situations.
The Hibs No. 2 cited the recent home defeat by Dundee United, when the team wilted in the face of criticism from the stands, as a prime example of some players toiling mentally.
“The big thing with me and Terry is that we’re really strong mentally and sometimes we take it for granted that we’ve been here for a long time and that the players will have the same mental attitude as us, but obviously that isn’t the case,” said Malpas. “We’ve only been here four months so we’re still trying to get our ways across to them and getting them to buy into what we’re doing. Technically and physically they are good enough but it’s the mental side we need to work on.
“For example, in the Dundee United game we deserved a lot of criticism and we got a lot of criticism. We had to accept that criticism and we were at the players throughout the following week telling them that we’ve got to accept the criticism but not let it affect us in games.”
After a week of trying to “get into the players’ psyche”, Malpas saw hints of a collective strength of character in the way Hibs fought back from 2-0 down in last weekend’s 3-3 draw with Motherwell. He hopes they can again show their mettle in what he expects to be a “blood and snotters” battle on a poor playing surface at Caledonian Stadium.
“I thought they were mentally strong against Motherwell last Saturday,” he explained. “At 2-0 down, the fans were, quite rightly, getting a bit agitated but the players were strong enough to come back and get 3-2 ahead. That’s what we want from them mentally. We want them to be so strong in their heads that nothing affects them.
“The crowd can do whatever they want. We want them to be behind us, but it’s up to us to get them off their seats, not the other way about. The players need to understand that if they’re playing poorly, they’re not against them. They’re just moaning because they’re not enjoying what they’re seeing.
“It’s not just the crowd, though, it’s about dealing with everything. When we were at Inverness, teams used to turn up and if the pitch or the weather wasn’t great we could tell that the other team didn’t fancy it and they’d switch off. We want to make sure that isn’t the case with this Hibs team.
“We want to be in a position where, regardless of whether we’re playing a team that plays tippy-tappy football on a beautiful pitch at Hampden or playing on a bog against a team that shells it up the park, we’ll be able to handle it. Having seen the pitch on Sunday [when Inverness lost 5-0 to Dundee United], it’ll not be a technical game up there tonight. It’ll probably be blood and snotters – we’ve got to handle it.”