Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs has insisted his focus isn’t on taking second place in the Championship table but on winning promotion.
The Edinburgh club’s hopes of an automatic return to the Premiership by pipping Rangers to the title vanished as a previously impressive record of just one defeat in 28 matches was shattered by four successive league defeats.
But, despite that dismal run, halted by a late equaliser to take a point from the weekend trip to face St Mirren, the Easter Road outfit remain very much in the hunt for that second spot which would ensure a less taxing play-off schedule for a side already set to play nine matches this month.
Falkirk currently hold that place, enjoying a six-point advantage although Hibs have three games in hand, their first chance of eating into that lead coming when Livingston, battling to avoid a relegation play-off, visit tonight, before Stubbs’ side travel to face relegated Alloa and host the Bairns next Tuesday.
Having endured a fraught few weeks, Stubbs is now hoping that his players can regain the form shown earlier in the season to realise their dream via the play-offs with Rangers finally set to clinch the title at home to Dumbarton tonight.
He said: “We’re not necessarily focusing on second. We’re still focusing on promotion. We know we’re in the play-offs now so, no matter what happens between now and the end of the season, we want to finish as high as we possibly can.
“Then we encounter the play-offs, and we’ll see what happens. We want to get back into the form we showed early on in the season and have a really strong end to the season.”
Although Hibs were neck-and-neck with Mark Warburton’s side for much of the season, Stubbs insisted Rangers were always favourites even if, until recently, he’d been making noises to the contrary.
And if last month’s calamitous results – losing in quick succession to Morton, Dumbarton and Queen of the South and then Raith Rovers – had put a different complexion on Hibs’ season, the head coach was equally adamant little, if anything, had changed as far as he was concerned.
He said: “I think because of the March we had, it can paint a completely different picture. We were always chasing Rangers and it was always going to be difficult to overhaul them. We always wanted to maintain second position. Nothing has changed. If we win our games in hand, we will go into second. We’ve still got it in our own hands and, potentially, a fantastic end to the season with the Scottish Cup semi-final to play as well.
“When you have three or four results like we have had in the league, it can sometimes be all doom and gloom. But when you take a step back from it, we have still got a great chance of achieving what we want to achieve.”
Stubbs revealed his belief had been strengthened having watched his players overcome the loss of a highly controversial equaliser before battling back from 2-1 down to salvage that late point in Paisley.
He said: “Saturday was a really important thing for me to witness – because it showed a lot of character. You know, especially when you go into the lead and are looking in control of the game, looking like the team to score a second and before you know it the opposition are back in the game, outwith your control.
“You can’t legislate for things like that. And that could have had a really negative effect on the team. It has, on occasions, but it didn’t have the most negative effect which would have been us losing the game.
“They kept going, they never gave up on it, kept going to the end. They got the least they deserved from the game.”
Stubbs acknowledged that recent results had raised question marks over his pairing of Jason Cummings with on-loan Celtic striker Anthony Stokes following the January transfer window, which saw Dominique Malonga depart for a second spell in Italy. But, he insisted, the dynamics of his team hadn’t changed as a result, pointing to how Stokes had chased a lost cause to set up the equaliser for Farid El Alagui, a player who has been used sparingly as he completes his recovery from a ruptured achilles tendon but one who could yet, he believes, play an important role.
He said: “Farid offers us a different element to our game and it’s something that could come in very useful for us between now and the end of the season.”