Following a difficult start to the season, including a dismal night when he conceded seven goals in a single game, Williams is enjoying being part of a defence that has a played a significant part in Hibs’ recent improvement under Butcher. The side have conceded just twice in the last seven matches. During this run, Williams has kept five clean sheets and with the goalkeeper now free to talk to other clubs, it would be understandable if the Hibs supporters were beginning to feel uneasy at the prospect of him being lured elsewhere. The club’s problems with finding a solid, dependable goalkeeper are well documented, and fixtures against Hearts prompt memories of calamities more readily than games against other sides.
The 31-year-old is entering his prime years as a goalkeeper and would be a very useful acquisition for clubs looking to strengthen in this area. Williams is certainly currently enhancing his reputation and it would be no surprise if he was being scouted by interested parties. He is not letting such thoughts concern him at present, however, even though he knows he is into the last few months of his contract, and, as of yesterday, free to talk to other clubs. Williams sounds relaxed about his future although he pointed out that if the club wishes to keep him, then he is happy to stay – news that will hearten the Hibs supporters.
He stresses that his family are settled in Edinburgh and he is not in a rush to move elsewhere. Understandably, Williams reasoned that there are other, more important issues going on at the club at the moment than the question of his own future. The death of Under-20 player David Paul has put everything in perspective while tonight’s fixture is something else to focus the mind, as Hibs seek to extend a three-game unbeaten run.
“I’ve not even had a chance to sit down with the manager, especially at this time, which is our busiest period,” said Williams. “The games come thick and fast. I’m sure when the situation arises, he will pull me in and we’ll talk about it. I’ve been happy. We’ve settled in really well as a family here.”
His equable state of mind could also have something to do with the recruitment of David Yeoman, who is described as a “sport language and behavioural strategist”. Yeoman worked with Butcher at Inverness Caledonian Thistle and has been hired to help the Hibs players overcome certain issues, such as the problems they were having performing in front of their own supporters at Easter Road, where they will be expected to secure a victory this evening against rivals who have twice got the better of them already this season.
“The manager is a very positive person, very keen to get across the importance of psychology in football,” said Williams. “It plays a massive part. It’s one of those things, it might not work for everybody. For the few that it does, it only takes those minor improvements for each and every individual – as a collective, that lets you take a giant step forward.”
Williams has only worked once before with a sports psychologist, when Aidy Boothroyd brought one in at Colchester United.
“What you learn to deal with through experience is the mental side of it because, as a goalkeeper, you are under an immense amount of pressure,” said Williams. “If you make a mistake, it’s a goal. There is a larger emphasis on you playing well so, over time, I’ve had to develop a thick skin.”
It was possible to wonder whether some Hibs players who were rounded on and abused after the 1-0 defeat by Hearts in October would ever want to step on a football pitch again. They were devoid of confidence and criticised for having let then manager Pat Fenlon down, with the Northern Irishman announcing his resignation soon afterwards.
Williams does not have a problem with fans venting their anger. “Fans pay very good money to come and watch football so they’re entitled to their opinion,” he said. “We could sense their frustration. I’ve never been in a position like that before in football in terms of demonstrations outside the ground. I’ve been fortunate that that’s not happened.
“It’s not nice to see, but you can empathise with the fans,” he added. “They’ve got a lot more to look forward to now. The team is working incredibly hard. The self-belief is there. We’re looking to go into every game to get a win – not just a positive result, but a win.”
This is a statement which rarely rings truer than prior to a derby.