IT WAS put to Alan Stubbs the other day that, on Friday, his Hibernian team will face a Rangers side hellbent on atoning for their outclassing at the hands of the capital side. Stubbs, if not feeling diplomatic, could have responded: Which one?
If the 4-0 thrashing at Easter Road six weeks ago represents Hibs’ most stunning success over their Championship rivals, the displays of Stubbs’ men at Ibrox have been equally creditable. Not just in the 3-1 victory there in October, but even when losing with ten men in extra time of their Petrofac Training Cup with which they kicked off the season.
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“Those experiences will give the players a lot of confidence going to Ibrox. Friday night’s game is a different game. What we did in the previous games won’t guarantee us performing well again. We need to do exactly the same, if not more, to get a result.
“They’ve strengthened [with the loans from Newcastle United] and we’ll see what team Kenny [McDowall, the Rangers caretaker manager] puts out against us.
“I don’t want to sound like a broken record, and I might be, but we’ve got good players. We’ve got a good group of lads and most importantly I see a hunger amongst them. I see a lot of them who are ready to kick on with their careers and win things. It is OK having good players but when you have got good players who are striving to be successful, that can give you that edge. That is what I feel we are starting to build in the group.
“Competition for players is really good at this time. It is breeding a healthy competition. The training levels are going up, you can see that little bit of intensity and rivalry. There is an edge to training which is great to see and will only make them better players.”
The ability of Stubbs’ team to shine in the highest-profile encounters, which games against Rangers represent, has allowed the affable Liverpudlian to achieve buy-in from his players, punters and even pundits as he seeks to produce Premiership promotion from his Project Progress. In turn, the decidedly patchy nature of his team’s Championship challenge to finish behind Hearts for second place – Hibs can leapfrog the Ibrox side this week, but have played three games more – can often be overlooked. Stubbs – who laughed “sometimes you might think I’m talking crap… sometimes I have to do that as well” – could even succeed in putting a sheen on that.
“I can only beat the drum so many times, but the players have to be able to witness it first-hand. When they do that their self-confidence goes through the roof. Yes, there’s going to be hiccups along the way, and we’ve had a couple of blips. We’ve drawn too many games. For me, one game is too many but to have drawn seven... Yet out of those we should have won all of them. That is the frustrating thing for me, but the pleasing thing as well. We are not hanging in there or scrapping draws. I can see progress.”
He isn’t overly fretting about whether his team’s development, and days such as Friday, allow them to overtake Rangers – and so face the prospect of only four play-off games as opposed to the six they would require to negotiate to win promotion if they remain in third place.
“Ideally we’d love to finish as high up as we possibly can, if that means us having fewer games. At the end, though, going up playing six games, or going up playing four games is still the same prize. If earning that prize means me playing six, I’ll take six all day long. If I had to play eight, I’d play eight.
“It is a quick turnaround but the prize at the end is the biggest prize of all. And it doesn’t make a difference whether the turnaround is three days or two days, or whatever. If you had the chance to go up and the game was the following day… Phff, I’d take it all day long. And I don’t think you would have any players complaining about it. If the game was the following day and it meant us going up, they’d play it. And they’d be fit. And they wouldn’t be tired. That is what it comes down to.”