Alan Stubbs’ contention that Hibs are a Premiership club trapped in the wrong league may cause a few eyebrows to be raised, particularly as his side are currently spending a second season in the Championship with no guarantee of a return to the top flight at the end of it.
Stubbs’ argument, however, is strengthened more than a little by the evidence provided by the Edinburgh club’s exploits in Scotland’s two cup competitions. Certainly their hopes of glory in the League Cup were brought crashing down about them as Alex Schalk’s dramatic last-minute winner brought Ross County the first trophy in the Dingwall outfit’s short history.
But in eight encounters with opposition from the Premiership, that Hampden disappointment represents Hibs’ only defeat, the other seven bringing five victories and two draws
Aberdeen, Dundee United, and St Johnstone were all taken care of in what was, in retrospect, a remarkable League Cup run while both capital rivals Hearts and, now, holders Inverness Caledonian Thistle have fallen, after replays, in the Scottish Cup.
As he reflected on those results while his side prepared to return to the “bread and butter” of league football against Raith Rovers tomorrow, Stubbs agreed the statistics suggest Hibs deserve better than to be on the second rung of Scottish football.
However, he readily agreed that only by returning Hibs to the Premiership could that claim be fully justified, a quest which only this week he conceded would now be via the play-offs rather than by automatic promotion as had been hoped only a few weeks ago.
He said: “Our football against Premiership teams has been good and the bit that gives me a lot of confidence is we’ve been very consistent. If we had played only one or two you would say it doesn’t give a reflection of how we would play against them. But we have played eight, won five, drawn two and lost one. I said all along this team could cope in the Premiership and to an extent that supports my argument a little bit. But what would back it up is by getting up.”
Defeats by Morton, Dumbarton and Queen of the South in the space of just six days effectively ended hopes of automatic promotion, leaving some to suggest Hibs’ cup exploits had become their Achilles heel, a view not shared by the Easter Road head coach.
He said: “People would say yes, but I think our performances have been OK. We lost three in a week and, given the way we had played, I was surprised by that. I thought in some of those games the results were very harsh on us but I’ve been in football long enough to realise performances don’t necessarily get you results.
“Our main priority has always been to win promotion and get up but when you are in a final and you have a quarter-final, they become the priority at that moment. We want to win everything. There is no point being in a competition and not having the mindset to win it.
“It would be a complete waste of time. That’s why I don’t put weakened teams out – I find that disrespectful to the club and fans. If that’s the case, we should write a letter and say we don’t want to be involved in the cups.”