ALAN Stubbs is not kidding himself. The Hibernian boss watched Colin Cameron guide his Berwick Rangers team past Spartans in their midweek Scottish Cup replay and set up a quarter-final tie against his Leith team.
But while he had nothing but admiration for the Berwick player/manager, who at 42 is only 12 months younger than the Englishman, he says there is no way his own body would countenance swapping the technical area for a starting berth.
The positive as far as he is concerned is that he has enough faith in his Hibs players to get the required results without his on-field assistance.
“It’s great, I would love to still be in a position but I think there is a little bit of a weight distribution advantage between me and Colin at this moment in time! I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to play and the fact he can still pull the boots on is great, it’s great for his players that he can pass on his experience. I know Colin quite well and I probably envy him a little bit with the fact he can still do it. He is obviously experienced and his head does all the running whereas he used to do all the running with his legs. He plays the game with his head now and puts himself in the right position.”
That is something Hibs will have to be wary of when the former Hearts player brings his side to Easter Road in the next round of the Scottish Cup at the start of next month, but Stubbs is confident that his players are capable of using their brains as well as their ability to maintain their current run of form in the Championship and in the knockout competition.
A team with momentum, he says the players are fully aware that they are now on the home straight as they seek to build on the success of last Friday, when they defeated Rangers at Ibrox to leapfrog them into second place. Rangers play against Raith Rovers tonight, so by the time Hibs take on Dumbarton tomorrow, Stubbs will know whether his team must vault the Glasgow club again or have the chance to extend their lead over their rivals.
“I don’t see the players feeling any pressure, they’re playing at the top of their game and when you do that, you don’t think about pressure. You enjoy your football, they’re playing with a smile on their face and you can see the camaraderie amongst them. It’s really good at this moment in time and I would expect it being on the run we’ve been on. The team spirit is great amongst them.”
With just one league defeat in 18 games and currently unbeaten since the start of December, Hibs are proving to be the team the others have to overhaul if they want to challenge for second place. But, while applauding the fine form, Stubbs is aware that in a division that has proved competitive from the outset, others are there or thereabouts.
“We have [got a bit of momentum] but Queen of the South have also kept going and they have had a lot of consistency to their results. They have not lost four or five – they have lost one and then bounced back quickly and Falkirk have had a good run. Rangers have lost six out of their last ten matches and are now in amongst it. Only Hearts have not had one blip all season and that is what has made it difficult for everybody else. You have got to take your hat off to them for being so consistent. Otherwise I still maintain it would have been between any one of three teams.”
For a while it seemed that despite their own decent results, the consistency of those above them meant that Hibs were struggling to make inroads but by keeping their heads, they have turned up the pressure on Rangers, who have three games in hand but are now two points off second place. “When you look at the bigger picture I always felt we were getting there but not necessarily getting the results,” says Stubbs. “I saw what I was getting from them. We’re in a position now that bodes well for the run-in. They’ve got to keep getting results and they’re aware of it. We’ve already, in our heads, entered the run-in. We’re in the final third of the season and now it’s going to be more difficult for the teams chasing as the games are running out.
“The pressure is now on Rangers as everybody expected them to finish first in the league. That is not me playing mind games, that is the facts. We are putting pressure on ourselves to win matches and not worrying about any other clubs whether that is Rangers, Queen of the South or Falkirk. But, if teams around us drop points then great.”