Hibernian: Squad must play for its future - Stubbs

HIBERNIAN were 40 minutes late for their official photocall yesterday and when Alan Stubbs finally emerged from the Easter Road tunnel, to be followed by his players in dribs and drabs, the manager quipped: “Sorry about that, everyone – the guys were putting on their make-up. Team photos have changed a bit since my day.”

Hibs players and management pose for their official photcall yesterday. Manager Alan Stubbs, front row centre, made it clear that results must improve fast. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Hibs players and management pose for their official photcall yesterday. Manager Alan Stubbs, front row centre, made it clear that results must improve fast. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

But after the group shot, the individual shots (seated) and the individual shots (action), Stubbs’ mood changed. In the wake of Hibs’ third league defeat in a row, he’d had some tough words for his underperforming charges. These were modified for general consumption yesterday but even so, the message was pretty clear: any more of this and you’ll be out.

“The Alloa performance wasn’t acceptable,” he said, referring to the 2-1 defeat at Recreation Park which left Hibs nine points behind leaders Hearts this early in the Championship. “We didn’t reach the levels of the previous weeks. I think there are a lot of reasons for that but I don’t want to go into them because that’s a whole other debate. I didn’t think we coped with what we had to do on the day.”

“I know where I’m going,” he added, “and I know what I want to do for this club. First and foremost I want people here who’re going to give 100 per cent and have a mentality not to accept second-best.”

Stubbs, who declared himself “really happy” with the players he’d been able to add to the squad since his arrival, was asked about those he’d inherited and who had conspired in the club’s relegation. “Those that have been left behind, I do think their mentality has changed from last season. But has it changed enough to put themselves on the pitch for this season? I think we can all do better. If they’re not prepared to meet the standards I expect then they won’t be at Hibernian Football Club much longer.”

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In other games, the league losses to Hearts and Falkirk and the Petrofac Training Cup defeat at Rangers, Hibs had played well for no reward. “That’s how football is,” Stubbs added. “I could have been talking on the back of five straight wins. Football can be ruthless. It can be thin 
margins and small dividing lines. We need to turn all that in our favour, that’s all. I honestly think it’s just a matter of time.”

But there was no doubt the Alloa defeat, against one of the division’s less-fancied teams, concerned him. “I watched it back, unfortunately. You have to, to see where you went wrong, how and why. Whether we like it or not, while Hibs in the past would play Celtic and Rangers and be cast as the underdogs, we’re now a scalp.

“That’s what my players have to realise very quickly. Everyone’s going to be up to beat us in every match. It’s a whole different ball game when you’re the hunted. They have to respond to that.” Stubbs of course experienced those expectations of success during his Celtic days. “That’s not easy but you have to find a way to deal with it. You become better players, mentally and in all ways, by coming through that.

“We have to understand we have no God-given right to go out there and pass the ball around and hope that other teams are going to go: ‘Okay, yeah, you can play.’ We have to find a way. What happens when teams get in our faces – what are we going to do? That’s when I expect to see my players roll their sleeves up and have a real grittiness about them and combat that. For once you combat another team’s strengths they’ll have nothing else to give.”

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With Cowdenbeath due at Easter Road on Saturday for what was a “must-win” game, Stubbs said he hoped Hibs had got their bad run out of the way early. “Obviously I would like to be sitting here with 12 points on the board and we only have three. But the league is going to be a marathon. Whereas our form in the first few weeks wasn’t bad, the results didn’t 
reflect that. But a lot of the other teams are going to have sticky patches. If we have to have one, then I’d rather it was at the start of the season than the middle or the end. I’m not happy about it but I’ll take it.”

Hibs would be expected to beat Cowdenbeath and the players would have to deal with that expectation.

“Cowdenbeath are going to enjoy coming here because it’s a great stadium but we have to make sure it’s an unhappy experience for them. We have to perform against the so-called lesser teams. Some of those teams will put ten men behind the ball. Well, we have to deal with that because if I was a manager of one of them I’d probably do that, too.”

Turning back to his players and his demands of them, he said he wasn’t “ruling with an iron fist”, rather being straight with them. “It’s just me telling them the facts. I think when you’re honest with people they respect you for that. It’s not me beating and battering them and shouting about this and that. I’ve done it in a controlled manner. But if they weren’t sure from the outset of exactly what I mean then they’re certainly sure now.”