Alan Stubbs had said: “I’ll shake his hand before the game and I’ll be expecting him to give me a drink after the game.” Meanwhile, in his pre-match briefing, Mark Warburton had confirmed: “Waitrose have got a good deal on my favourite Sancerre and I’m sure my big mate Stubbsy will love it so I’ve grabbed a whole box. Give us the keys to the stadium and we’ll lock up when we’ve seen it off.”
Well, actually what he said was that when the football was done he liked to share a tipple with all his opposition managers and the Hibs boss, despite everything, would be no different.
These two had another fall-out last week. This one was money, budgets, and Warburton having an “easy job” because his was much bigger than the rest. The Rangers man – for the first time deviating from the script of being cautious, delivering the same answers every time and being a tiny bit bland – told Stubbs to “keep his mouth shut”. So 50,000 pop psychologists and body-language experts were waiting for the pre-match handshake in this one.
As is traditional, it was the home manager who popped his head into the away dugout. This was a quick, no-nonsense handshake, no arms round shoulders, no in-joke sniggering, no hands over mouths to conceal their words from the 50,000 lip-readers. Stubbs was carrying a cup but presumably nothing stronger than tea.
During a snoozy opening period, Warburton was one of the liveliest performers. Always in a suit, the kind he might have worn in his previous life in the City, he paces round his technical area like an expectant dad outside the maternity unit, having rushed over from the office. He tidied up, removing water bottles and other rubbish. He wandered this way and that, studying the play but also looking at the ground, almost in a self-conscious way, as if he couldn’t quite believe the size of the roaring beastie he’s re-awakened at Ibrox – or the fact these fans come bearing loaves of bread of the brand with which he shares a name.
Stubbs sat tight for a bit before joining Warburton up front. “Stubbsy”, the Hibs corner chorused, and the home support sang: “Alan Stubbs, you’re a wine drinker”. He would have been more pleased with the first half than Warburton and would joke with the fourth official while his rival stayed edgy. Stubbs asked for 11 leaders to turn up and saw Liam Henderson dominate the midfield. But Martin Boyle’s self-belief, in his left foot at least, deserted him while Jason Cummings spurned his chance.
The game turned around the hour-mark. Henderson missed another opportunity and in their next attack Rangers scored, James Tavernier repeating his feat from the Petrofac Training Cup with a dead-ball strike, only this was a particularly outrageous effort, with the angle and distance and, initially, the flight of his shot seemingly against a positive outcome until the ball dipped violently and Mark Oxley was beaten.
Stubbs stayed in his seat, leaving the floor to Warburton, who continued with his jittery act, clapping, barking, stretching out his hands and making some other gestures which looked quite rude. This tight match was telling him his team have serious rivals for the Championship. There was one last anxious expression. Had he really bought the right wine?