JOHN Hughes has urged Raith Rovers to ‘play with a smile on their faces’ when he makes his debut in charge against old club Hibs.
Rovers have not won since October in a dismal run that stretches back 14 matches and eventually cost Gary Locke and assistant Darren Jackson their jobs after a sixth successive league defeat.
The Stark’s Park outfit have gone from promotion play-off hopefuls to struggling in eighth in the table and in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle.
Hughes took charge of the team on Monday and could not have wished for a more difficult baptism than the visit of the Championship leaders.
But, acknowledging that confidence is low in his new charges, ‘Yogi’ is determined to swap the fear factor for fun.
Hughes, who is without the suspended pair of Iain Davidson and Kevin McHattie, told @CCP_sport: “I’m looking forward to facing Hibs because it will be the acid test, we’ll see exactly where we are and what needs done.
“To be fair to the players, there’s been plenty of enthusiasm. They’re all up for it, that’s for sure, and we’re just trying to give them the tools to make sure they can be at their best on Saturday.
“Hibs have got plenty at their disposal and it’s pointless trying to second-guess what they’re going to do.
“We’ve got our own problems and our own work to do. Obviously thinking about the opposition comes into it but we have to worry about ourselves.
“I still have to let them go and play and express themselves and play with a smile on their faces.
“I want them to play with a desire and a spirit and a discipline.
“But, most importantly, every sportsman’s at their best when they’re enjoying themselves.
“The only way to enjoy yourself is to have a laugh and a bit of banter, even when things are not quite going for you.”
Hughes went quickly from punter to worker when watching Sunday’s Edinburgh derby after being appointed by Raith on Friday.
He insists he saw in the goalless draw at Tynecastle just why Hibs currently enjoy a six-point lead at the top of the league, but is hopeful his side can stand up to the test.
He added: “I was impressed with Hibs. It was a typical derby but I felt at times that Hibs were the better team. It’s going to be a real difficult match for us.
“But it’s one where we can’t be shrinking violets. We have to go and match them, and I’m not talking about running about like a lunatic, I’m talking about trying to cause Hibs problems.
“There will be plenty of times when Hibs will have more of the ball, we understand that.
“But it’s my first game in charge, so we want to try to do well.”