Con man Hughes trying all the tricks in the book to get best out of his players and put Hibs back on track

IF THE young men of Hibs think that the avuncular chap called Yogi who puts his arm around their shoulders and shares a joke is doing so because he is their best mate, they should read these words of his and beware the 190lb chameleon in the dressing room.

"I'm the biggest con man going," said manager John Hughes. "Everybody thinks I'm their best pal because you get close to them and laugh and joke with them, but all I'm doing is testing their character and sussing them out."

It's part of a manager's job, says Hughes, to know what makes his men tick and discover whether or not they are actually paying attention to coaching lessons, and if that means disguising your motives, then so be it. "That's what you do," said Hughes. "You're a chameleon, you're in there, and you're their best pal and cuddling them, but all you're doing is testing them, seeing what they've got.

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"I feel that having been in the game I know what it takes to be a winner and the only way to do that is to test them, test their character, and pick up the vibes. I think I am a good judge of character, but you also have to make sure that they are taking on board the things you are putting over to them. And if you get that, there's a chance you will get a winning mentality."

That phrase again. It's been a constant refrain of Hughes, even before he joined Hibs from Falkirk last summer. At first, his squad at Easter Road seemed to have developed the right attitude, but results since Christmas have been variable to say the least, while the exit from the Scottish Cup at the hands of Ross County still causes hurt to appear in his eyes at the very mention of the victors' name.

Hibs' recent lack of form, with just two wins from 11 matches, has seen them drop five points behind midweek conquerors Dundee United into fourth spot in the SPL. The dip has mystified Hughes and everyone at Easter Road, but he feels that poor quality defensive play by the team as a whole has been a key problem.

He said: "In the early part of the season we were up there as one of the best defending teams in terms of clean sheets. Over the last quarter that has not been the case.

"I have to be guarded and careful when I say this, because people will say, ah, the defence. But I'm talking about right from the front, from the first line of defence, who's tackling, who's pressing – there is a lot of football to be played before the ball gets in your last quarter. It's been disappointing because of where we want to go. We've given ourselves the opportunity to get one of the European spots, so for all the boys' hard work, I just hope we get it."

Hibs could qualify for Europe even in fifth place should Celtic and Dundee United make it to the Scottish Cup final, but Hughes is not ready for a fall-back position: "Don't even say that. I want that third spot. United can do no wrong at this time, but I want to see guys in our dressing room who can claw it back and overhaul them."

Hughes also dismissed speculation that the changed atmosphere at Easter Road, where the East Stand has been demolished, might have affected the players. "The last time there was a stand out of action I think we finished third and got to the final of the Scottish Cup.

"We've only played two games at Easter Road since it's been down, so that's not it. We just need to keep sticking it together."

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Hughes has introduced different training regimes to try and inculcate particularly the need to work to get back behind the ball, and he has another demand coming for his players. Though team training sessions have been cut to around an hour, Hughes want his players to do much more preparation work of other kinds. That's why new working hours of nine to three might well arrive at Hibs' training ground in East Lothian.

"It's been a bugbear of mine," said Hughes. "Why should players come in at ten o'clock and finish at 12? It doesn't mean they can't come in and do gym work, or do homework, like watching games together.

"I want guys in from nine o'clock to at least three o'clock and there should always be something for them to do, albeit rest is a big part of it. I have no doubt I have guys who will say 'fantastic this is everything I want,' but I've got one or two who will say 'hold on, this is hard work'."

You can take it the "con man" will know who is in the latter camp.

The new regime may also help to get Hibs back on track as the season nears the point where new contracts and arrivals and departures start to get discussed.

"Everyone has something to prove to me every day," was how the manager defined his criteria for players to gain the pass marks that will keep them playing for Hibs.

Hughes wants Hibs to get back on track with a win against Celtic today as a reward for the squad's hard work, if nothing else. If it happens, no doubt there will be a queue to tell Hughes that it was all down to karma, chameleon.