ALAN Stubbs praised the character of his Hibernian players yesterday after they battled back from two goals down to capital rivals Hearts in the Scottish Cup.
The Easter Road boss insisted that, while some may have questioned his side, he never had any reason to doubt their mental strength.
The Edinburgh teams will have to do it all again in the fifth round after a pulsating tie at Tynecastle with Stubbs insisting a 2-2 draw was the least his men deserved. The replay will be at Easter Road next Tuesday.
Asked what the comeback said about the character of his players, Stubbs said: “It didn’t tell me anything because I already knew.
“It’s other people who’ve questioned them. I’ve said all along that I have 100 per cent belief in this team.”
First-half goals by Arnaud Djoum and Sam Nicholson had given Hearts a lead which could be said to have flattered Robbie Neilson’s team – but all-out pressure by Hibs after the break eventually brought reward in the shape of goals by Jason Cummings and Paul Hanlon, the latter’s equaliser coming in the 91st minute.
I’m satisfied because I thought the least we deserved out of the game was a drawALAN STUBBS
“I’m satisfied because I thought the least we deserved out of the game was a draw,” Stubbs added.
“We got in at half-time and I was wondering how we were two goals down, but we were. Their first was a good strike but I thought we could have defended better at the second. I told the players at the break that the next goal was vital.
“I thought we were fantastic in the second half, I really do. We’ve pinned a really good Hearts team back for the majority of it. Another five minutes would have been very interesting.”
Neilson was disappointed his side couldn’t hold out for the victory, although his take on the first period was very different to that of Stubbs.
He said: “We had a really good half where I think we dominated and created a lot of chances.
“In the second half, the weather got really bad and we got penned in a wee bit and couldn’t get out.
“I still expected us to defend a two-goal lead. To lose two at the end is disappointing but it happened.”
The fighting draw continued Hibs’ good results against Premiership teams this season, having already knocked Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone out of the League Cup.
Stubbs added: “They’ve a great spirit and a fantastic bond between them and when you have these things and ability which is most important then anything is possible.”
The Englishman reckoned his side could “comfortably” perform in the top flight. But he also praised his capital rivals, adding: “Hearts are really strong. They’ve got some good players and I don’t mean physically. That’s a conversation which had deflected against a good team.”
So did he think Hibs would now be favourites to progress? “I honestly believe whether we’re favourites or underdogs is irrelevant. It’s what the players do on the pitch. I do know we’ll have a fantastic support behind us at Easter Road and if that makes us favourites then so be it.”
Neilson was asked if Hibs would be favourites. “You tell me,” he replied. “The pressure was on us at Tynecastle, as it always is in a derby.
“I think at Easter Road there is less expectation on us and we can go there with a good chance of getting a result. It’s a different game for the home team. It’ll be tough for Hibs.”
Putting aside his disappointment, he was looking forward to the re-match. “We now have another derby, another money-spinner for both clubs, which is great. It’s another big one for the fans and if we get through that it will be an even better feeling than winning at the first time of asking.
“I’ve missed the derbies. They’re good games to be involved in. I look forward to going back to Easter Road. It’s a nice big pitch and we’ll have a lot of players back. We’ve a real chance there.”
In his third spell with Hibs, Kevin Thomson returned to the derby fray as a substitute – and headed a last-gasp Hearts effort off the line.
“That would have been typical Hibees, wouldn’t it? Fortunately I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “But we were the team in the ascendancy, they just relied on the counter-attack.”
He was full of praise for the character his younger team-mates showed in such a hostile atmosphere.
“We’ve got a brilliant dressing-room,” he said. “As a golden oldie, it reminds me of being young again.”