There’s one or two prima donnas who think they are better than anyone,” said Hibernian head coach Alan Stubbs, pictured, as he addressed reporters at the club’s East Main training base.
His facetious remarks were taken in good humour by much-coveted midfielder Scott Allan as he walked past within earshot of Stubbs.
“Oh, hello Scott – didn’t know you were there,” added a grinning Stubbs.
It was just a momentary example of the kind of rapport that the one-time Everton under-21 coach enjoys with his players.
It was a different story just over 12 months earlier, however, when Stubbs was appointed Terry Butcher’s successor and tasked with assembling a squad that could challenge for the Championship title.
The objective remains the same following last season’s play-off defeat to Rangers but the former Celtic defender now has the benefit of having worked with the team for a year and being aware of potential threats in the second tier.
The same cannot be said for Rangers, whom they face in next Saturday’s Petrofac Training Cup first round, following Mark Warburton’s arrival as manager.
That is why Hibs striker Dominique Malonga believes the Easter Road side are favourites for the title.
“For me, yeah – but it’s just talk,” said Malonga.
“The truth is on the pitch, I can say it all I like but we need to do it in games, we need to win.
“It’s about week after week after week. I can say we are favourites but the truth is on the pitch.
“We know exactly the competition, and we’re all together now.
“Last year I came in late and others did too, but now we’re all here and the coach knows everyone.
“We have a chance to win the Championship if we’re focused to start from the first game.
“I think this year is going to be all about Rangers and Hibs.”
Automatic promotion will avoid the uncertainty of the play-offs. Hibs were beaten 2-1 on aggregate at the semi-final stage last season. The Ibrox club were then comprehensibly beaten by Motherwell as the Fir Park side successfully preserved their top-flight status.
“The play-offs were a huge, huge disappointment but we need to look forward and use that in the season ahead,” added Malonga.
“We have a good team, we’ve trained well and everyone here wants to win the Championship.”
Malonga admits Hibs want to emulate city rivals Hearts by steamrollering their way to the title.
The Tynecastle outfit cantered to the finishing line last season, winning 29 games out of 36 to finish the campaign 21 points clear of second placed Hibs.
The 26-year-old, who scored 16 goals last season after arriving from Italian outfit Cesena, added: “I think the example is Hearts. Hearts last year started really well.
“They won every game at home in the beginning. Ourselves and Rangers, we lost, drew and won but Hearts were just flying and we need to follow that example.
“We need that consistency because I think we’re a better team than Hearts, but we have to have a good mentality.
“Every day you go on the pitch, the only thing is you win. The only thing that matters is winning games and we need to follow that example.”
Head coach Stubbs, meanwhile, admits he plans to miss Tuesday’s friendly at Ayr United so he can attend Rangers’ only public pre-season outing before Saturday’s cup tie.
Warburton has so far only played matches behind closed doors but the Rangers fans will get the chance to see their team in action for the first time under the former Brentford manager when Burnley visit Ibrox in two days’ time.
Stubbs has a rough idea of what to expect from Warburton from his time at the Bees but he still wants to watch Rangers in person.
Stubbs said: “I may be at Ibrox. It’s something I will have a think about with it being pre-season.
“With a normal game, I wouldn’t do it, but the fact that it’s pre-season and a friendly, I know what the players can do and I know their attitude is really good anyway.
“I’d like to think they will miss me but they will say they won’t.
“If I did do it, I trust my staff – that’s the biggest thing.”
Asked if he expects Warburton to set out his team in the same way that he did at Brentford, Stubbs replied: “I will be surprised if he doesn’t, because it will be what he believes in and he’ll stick to that.
“They will definitely look to play out from the back. They will try and play as much as possible. They will try and play a more free-flowing style of football, so we’ll see.
“We had quite a few lads who went on loan to them from Everton and that was one of the reasons why we sent them because we knew they would play football.
“We knew what type of manager Mark was. It was a good fit but this is obviously different.
“It will be a real eye-opener for him but one I am sure he will be relish.”