STUNNED to learn that his team have not managed back-to-back league wins this season, Alan Stubbs says statistics like that will prompt Hibs to up their game heading into the new year.
“If the stats keep getting put up in front of us, I want to keep knocking them down. I am shocked by that and I believe we are a better team than that stat suggests,” said the Easter Road boss, who has presided over consecutive victories but never on Championship duty, which is one reason they are in fourth place and have fallen so far behind league leaders Hearts.
As they head into a crucial festive period, in which they will take on two of the teams perched above them, they sit 16 points behind their city rivals, who also have a game in hand.
“I think the fans have been quite patient and quite understanding of what has been going on and I am actually taken aback by that statistic but I will now be doubly eager to put that right.”
They have the opportunity to do that, away to Raith Rovers, a side who account for one of Hibs’ four draws at home this term. “I want the team to keep improving in every aspect, whether that’s the mental side, social side, or on the pitch, I want them to keep improving and I would certainly want them to improve on that statistic. I honestly do think we should be at least nine points better off than we are. I really do but there have been games where we didn’t take the points from them we should have done. The most pleasing thing for me is that I feel we are improving and I really do think we are getting a head of steam up and the players really do believe in what we are doing. They feel the strongest they have felt for a long time and physically and mentally they are very, very fit. When you’ve got that sometimes it can make my job a lot easier.”
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
But he accepts any report card describing the first part of the season would determine that he and his players could do better.
“You could definitely say that. If I was to say that we have done fantastic and that we’re great then it would be the wrong thing because if we were fantastic and great, we would be top of the league.”
Marking the first section of the season he categorises it as seven out of ten. “I think we have just crept into that seven category but I want it to be a higher score than that come the end of the season. I honestly still think we can get promotion. Two teams could go up and I hope that we are one of them.”
The likelihood is that he will have to rely on a play-off place, with even the Hibs boss admitting that the gap between the teams makes catching Hearts a big ask.
“I would like to be going up as champions, there is no denying that. Hearts have done great up to now. They have been very impressive and their start has been the envy of every team and what every other team would have wanted, I’m not going to lie. But we have to keep chasing them and the teams below them have, at times helped them with their results, but they have just carried on and kept winning and kept focused on what they can do and they have been very impressive.
“They can be caught. it is going to be difficult now but they can definitely still be caught. I would presume they will strengthen in January as well though so we will all be in the same boat.”
Stubbs will strengthen his squad in January and expects all their rivals to do likewise but he believes that if improvements continue to be made, the Easter Road side can still start clawing back the points difference. Against Alloa last week, there was some unrest in the stands. The fans’ anxiety was not shared by the manager who took real encouragement from the display.
“I thought we controlled the game from start to finish when it can be difficult to break down ten men who get behind the ball. Some reports said we struggled across the line – yet we limited the opposition to one attempt on goal.
“I was very pleased. I thought we controlled the game, had 17 corners, 60 per cent possession and won the game 2-0.
“That’s the most important thing. We are improving. Earlier on in the season, that might have been a game we would have drawn. I thought we showed signs of maturity.”
Having the guts and the composure to keep possession is a sign of how the squad has grown in belief under the Englishman and he says patience is a virtue and insists that the majority of the Hibs fans understand that.
“The fans at Easter Road are knowledgeable, they are maybe just a little nervous. I think they appreciate exactly what we are doing and are behind us.
“There have been times we have been behind in games and they have been fantastic with us and pushed us on. But when your nearest rivals are in front of you, that can sometimes create a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of tension. However, the players have shown a lot of mental toughness over the last couple of months, which is all credit to them. I think the fans are really enjoying what we are doing.
“I witnessed a goal in the Liverpool-Bournemouth game which had 52 passes, with about 25 of those in their own half.
“If you are prepared to be patient and you keep moving teams around then you will get opportunities. That is ultimately where we want to get to. We have done it on occasions but our final ball or final run into the box hasn’t quite been there.
“As a fan, you want to turn up and see the team win 5-0, you want to see lots of chances. It is an entertainment business. But I never felt nervous at any point last week.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS