HIBERNIAN have played competitively three times under Alan Stubbs and incurred a hat-trick of suspensions. It is a disciplinary record the new head coach has warned his players they cannot continue if they are to put up the right kind of fight in this season’s Championship.
The Easter Road outfit concluded Sunday’s combustible Edinburgh derby with just ten men after midfielder Scott Robertson was sent-off for a second booking in the act of conceding the penalty that effectively clinched a 2-1 victory for Hearts.
Things got worse in the wake of the ill-tempered encounter, though, with full-back Lewis Stevenson being served with a two-match ban by SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny for a stamp, or attempted stamp, on Jamie Walker.
Hibs opted to accept the censure, as did Walker, who was also issued a two-game suspension for reacting with a head-butt on his opposite number.
The derby and its fall-out means Hibs have now already totted up an unwanted tally of bans since the start of the competitive action earlier this month. Danny Handling got the ball rolling when he was red-carded, albeit controversially, in the Petrofac Training Cup defeat to Rangers at Ibrox.
With Stubbs working with a slim-line squad this term, insisting he has opted to sign ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’ with the reduced budget he was left with following relegation, he has stressed to his players they cannot afford to be sidelined needlessly. The absence of Robertson and Stevenson against Falkirk tomorrow makes the manager’s case perfectly.
“At the end of the game, to get embroiled in something that was really silly, that’s something we will learn from and it won’t happen again,” said Stubbs. “You would think the last person to do that would be Lewis. So, they’re all human, it can affect everybody.
“We’ve spoken to the players about the discipline and about controlling their emotions. It’s something that we need to do, because we’re not going to have a squad of 25 or 26 players, so we need to make sure we manage the group we’ve got well and we don’t pick up silly or unnecessary suspensions when there’s no reason to do that.
“There was no point contesting (Stevenson’s notice of complaint), it was there for everyone to see. If we had contested it, it’s not as if we were going to win. You have to sometimes just take your punishment and move on.”
Moving on is exactly what it appears defender Michael Nelson could be doing any day now after Stubbs confirmed the former Kilmarnock player has been informed he is free to find a new club. The 34-year-old has been warned he is not going to be a preferred starter under Stubbs and, despite an impressive showing against Hearts, has been told by the Hibs boss to explore a transfer for the good of his career.
“We had a conversation and I couldn’t guarantee that he was going to start,” explained Stubbs, who praised Nelson as a ‘top pro and a top bloke’. “At his age in his career I told him he needs to be playing all the time, and he needs to be playing as much as he can for as long as he can.
“But nothing’s changed. I think Nels may have one or two options and there may be some movement over the next few days on that. I hope that would allow me to bring someone else in. I don’t really want to be losing someone and not bringing another one in. We are actively making progress on that front.”
Stubbs admitted Paul Hanlon, whose absence saw Nelson drafted in at Tynecastle, is doubtful for tomorrow’s visit of Falkirk, but insisted scans have shown the centre-half’s knee injury is not a recurrence of the cartilage problem that saw him miss the end of last season and undergo an operation.
Lengthy injuries, like suspensions, are something Hibs must avoid as much as possible if they are to achieve their stated aim of pushing for promotion this season.
Despite defeats to both, Stubbs remains convinced they can challenge more-fancied city rivals Hearts and Championship favourites Rangers come the end of the season, and will take great satisfaction from proving his team’s doubters wrong.
“I honestly don’t think anyone gave us a fighting chance at Tynecastle on Sunday,” he added, “and I think we’re changing people’s perceptions all the time about us.
“Whereas we were no-hopers at the beginning, now people are suddenly saying we’re going to have a big say in what happens. From going from no-hopers to that, I think that’s progress.
“We know we’re going to have doubters, that’s football. There’s always doubters on every corner.
“Unfortunately, the hardest thing is to change someone’s perception and I know it’s not going to happen overnight. But we will change people’s perceptions and we will surprise people this season. I’m convinced of that.”