WHILE the off-the-field tug o’ war continues unabated despite Hibs’ best efforts to quash the Ibrox club’s advances, on the field they are set to take up where they left off last term, in another head-to-head at Easter Road.
But while Rangers said earlier this week that they see the Petrofac Cup tie as little more than the latest match in their pre-season warm-up, Alan Stubbs’ men admit they are taking matters a little more seriously, given who they are up against and the role they could have in defining their season.
As soon as you draw Rangers it’s a big game and a big one for the fans. I’m looking forward to itPaul Hanlon
“If that’s the way they think is best to plan their season then that’s fair enough,” said defender Paul Hanlon, “but if I’m picked to play against Glasgow Rangers on Saturday, I’m going to give it my all.
“It will be a good indication of where we are at. We’ve all worked really hard through the pre-season and the original plan was to make it more of a pre-season game but as soon as you draw Rangers it’s a big game and a big one for the fans. I’m looking forward to playing at Easter Road as well. We’ve not had any of the pre-season games there.”
They raised the curtain on last season with a similar fixture, albeit the tie was played at Ibrox. Rangers were firm favourites that day but needed extra time and a red card for Hibs to help them through.
“We were brilliant that night at Ibrox. Danny Handling got sent off and that kind of changed the game a bit, but it gave us belief to kick on for the season and we had a few good performances against them in the league campaign.”
But despite the seven clashes, in league, cup and play-off contests last term, with Hibs having the measure of the Glasgow side in more than half of them, Hanlon says they are unsure what kind of opposition they will pose this time, with new signings and a new management team at the helm.
“They’ve made a few changes, as we expected, with so many players leaving. It’s unknown, but the manager watched them the other night so I’m sure we’ll get a video analysis session before the game.”
One of the close-season additions has already made his mark. Basing his judgment on a summer bounce match against Hibs while he was still with Wigan, Martyn Waghorn has dismissed the Easter Road side as basic and ordinary. It is the sort of comment that can be pinned on dressing-room walls and used to motivate opponents. But his trash talking has been dismissed by Hanlon.
“He maybe wasn’t watching the first half of the game. We ran them a bit ragged in the first half. But that’s not something I worry about. It’s Hibs against Rangers, not Wigan. It’s not something I pay attention to. You have to go out on the pitch and play. That’s where you do your talking at the end of the day.”
Last season Hibs fell short in that department, trailing well behind capital rivals Hearts in the chase for automatic promotion before losing out to Rangers in the play-off. But, on the brink of a new campaign, Hanlon, says that the fact the majority of the team have been together for at least a season, growing in confidence under Stubbs, will bolster their bid this season and that continuity could be the advantage they need to progress in the Petrofac Cup and then finish ahead of Rangers once again.
“No-one is going into the game fearing Rangers. It’s all about ourselves and concentrating on trying to get through to the next round of this cup,” said Hanlon. “Twelve months ago was tough. We came back for pre-season with not many players at all. There was no manager, nothing, so the change around has been amazing. The difference in training and the professionalism is unbelievable now so it’s just about seeing the benefits on the pitch really.
“I just think the manager and the staff have brought a real belief in the players. They tell us every game that we’re good enough to win. It’s always drilled into us. And a few improvements have been brought into the squad that will make us stronger. Last season we performed well, but not well enough so we need to take it to the next level.
“It took a bit of getting used to, but we went into most games as favourites and put up a decent run of unbeaten games. We need to do that again. We’re going to be expected to be at the top of the league. We need to be able to deal with it. There are a lot of teams in it. You can’t rule St Mirren out. I don’t think two teams will run away with it.”