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8 of 009 Kevin Kyle pen 25L SPL H

Butcher’s side show hosts the benefit of having a winning mentality

Richard Winton at Tynecastle

20 Dec 2010

Terry Butcher stood proudly at the mouth of the tunnel, a solitary finger raised aloft to the jubilant Inverness Caledonian Thistle supporters.

The implication of the gesture was obvious; one digit, one year unbeaten away from home in the league, this draw ensuring that his remarkable side completed their 2010 travels without defeat.

Half an hour later, Ross Tokely is trying to explain exactly how the first division champions have done it. The 31-year-old has experienced almost everything during his turbulent 15-year career with the club yet one afternoon at Firhill last November remains vivid. “The manager ripped a few heads off that day. We’ve seen it a couple of times since and it’s frightening,” admitted the fearless defender. “He changed a few things that day and we’ve kicked on since.

“Winning games gives you belief and momentum coming into this league. We possibly are punching massively above our weight but Caley at our best is when we’re written off and people are gradually giving us the respect that disappears when you get a knock like relegation.”

And little wonder. Forget all the charming, if entirely evasive, nonsense about Auchterarder chip shops and Friday quizzes; the truth is that Butcher and Maurice Malpas have constructed a redoubtable unit. The way in which they stood tall in the face of Hearts’ brusque probing is the mark of a group who have developed a winning mentality, something that the Tynecastle club could perhaps learn a lesson from.

I joined as a raw 17-year-old and I think everyone has written me off every year

Ross Tokely, Inverness CT defender

The week leading up to this contest had been soundtracked by excited chatter about a title challenge from Edinburgh. The suggestions seemed rooted in solid reasoning – six consecutive victories, just one goal conceded and within three points of Celtic – but there remains a substantial disparity between manoeuvring yourself into a good position and subsequently exploiting that situation.

A home victory on Saturday would have moved Hearts level with the Parkhead club yet there was no real sense of disappointment about the missed opportunity. Jim Jefferies talked of “the best home performance of the season” and Ian Black conveyed the feeling within the dressing room as being one of mild frustration eased by the extension of their seven-match unbeaten run. That, unfortunately, is not the mindset of championship winners.

“We’re not scared of Celtic of Rangers because anyone can beat them,” insisted Black, refuting suggestions his side need to adapt their thinking to truly compete at the top. “Splitting them is massive for any team but our ambition is to finish as high as possible and doing that would be a great achievement.”

The midfielder, too, referred to the Old Firm getting “the rub of the green and a few results here and there” but consistently turning one point into three cannot be attributed to fortune alone. Successful teams force late goals through their resolve and belief that the rigging will ripple while pretenders merely hope that the ball will fall favourably.

For Hearts, it didn’t on Saturday. Jefferies was right in his assertion that his team dominated the second half but for all of their possession, and all of the deliveries that looped, flashed and skidded into the penalty area, they actually created very few clear scoring opportunities.

Much of that, though, can be attributed to the fine work of Tokely and central defensive partner Grant Munro. The duo might lack finesse at times but their effectiveness is beyond reproach, with the beefy duel between Tokely and Kevin Kyle a magnificently masculine match-up.

For the Invernessian, it was further validation of his belief that he can not only survive, but thrive at this level. It is a long time since he was the gangly youngster of the team that won the third division but the passing of the years has not dimmed his desire to prove himself.

“I joined as a raw 17-year-old and I think everyone has written me off every year,” he admits, smiling. “Its great to get a chance to play in this division again after dropping out of it. The manager spoke to me in the summer and said it would be a challenge, playing centre-back, but when you’ve been given a new position against better strikers you’ve got to raise your game and I’ve grasped it because I love playing for Caley.”

Safe to say Tokely will not be lured from Inverness next month but a creeping sense of apprehension is enveloping Hearts. Saturday showcased, once again, the coruscating talents of David Templeton and Jefferies, unprompted, namechecked the youngster when asked about the fear of losing players in the window. He was not the only one. Butcher spoke in awed terms of the winger while Black offered a glowing testimonial. “I think the wee man could go bigger and better; he’s got the ability to play in the Premier League and he’ll play for his country soon.”

Saturday might have been a blow to Hearts’ ambitions but losing Templeton would be an even more grievous setback for the pretenders to deal with.

Taken from the Herald

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