SHUFFLING the pack is less of a concern these days, with Hibs manager Alan Stubbs happy that he now has plenty of players on the sidelines with the will and the ability to prove themselves whenever they are afforded the opportunity.
There were off-field issues and onfield setbacks at the start of the Championship campaign. There were also the kind of injury complications he could have done without at the outset of a new push for promotion back to the top flight. But through it all, the Easter Road gaffer was always firm in his belief that time and a few key additions to his squad could cure all ails.
That faith in himself, his players and his superiors to all pull together and find a winning formula has paid off and after an up-and-down start they have now recorded three successive wins and go into tomorrow’s league fixture against Livingston confident of making it four, even without players who have been sidelined by injury.
“The impact on the group as a whole now is not as severe. If we do pick up two or three injuries we’ve not only got back-up but players who are chomping at the bit to get their opportunity to stake a claim to stay in the team. We didn’t necessarily have that option early on.
“For me, when you’ve got a good group, more often than not, it’s a matter of time – when you put the performances in the results will come. I think there were a few distractions early on and those distractions have now been removed, and it’s given the players the chance to focus on the most important thing, and that’s the football – rather than off-field situations.
“I’m pleased with the performances. Since the first game, there’s been an incline in our performances, both the quality and the temp of them.
“We were having to play a little bit of catch-up, because of a few injuries early on. And, if I’ve to be honest, we were treading on eggshells a little bit with them, and we were having to hold back a little bit with the training because of the fear we might pick up a couple of other injuries. Maybe that affected them in terms of their sharpness.”
High-profile departures have been offset by a mass recruitment, addressing weaknesses up front, as well as finding a balance of emerging talent, energy and verve and more established ability and experience.
In bringing in Adam Eckersley, Stubbs was less centred on the full-back’s recent past as a Hearts player and more focused on the positives that he brings to his predominantly youthful squad. As well as a knowledge of what it takes to win this league, having helped Hearts to the title last term, he offers his new employers an older head, a winning mentality and cover in the one position which was still lacking that strength in depth.
“We’ve seen it happen to what you would call the biggest clubs, we’ve seen it happen with Hearts and Hibs, you see it in England, Manchester, Liverpool, London. Sometimes other people just make a bigger deal out of it.
“As a fan, I don’t think it’s ideal for them to see a player go across to the other side – but that’s football now.
“The initial impact can lead to a little bit of jostling and comments here and there. But after a game or two they move on and they move on to another topic of conversation.”
A knee operation means that for the time being Eckersley is still on the sidelines looking on. He has had an arthroscopy on his knee, but is joined by fellow Hearts old boy James Keatings and midfielder Fraser Fyvie on the the comeback trail.
Stubbs said: “James has just stretched the scar tissue from the last injury. It’s not a new one, which is really good news, so we’re talking days rather than weeks. He’ll miss this weekend, but there’s every chance he could be involved in training again next week.
“Fraser’s [injury] was probably a little bit more serious and it’s going to be a couple of weeks before he’s playing. But he’s making progress, he’s doing well,” added Stubbs, showing little sign of agitation, and insisting that is due to the options he still has at his disposal thanks to his summer recruitments.
“Fraser gets injured and Marvin (Bartley), who had played initially, comes straight in. The continuity of everything is just free-flowing at the moment. It’s not a big deal when someone goes out and you think he’s a really important player – because we’ve got really quality players waiting to step in and grab the chance.
“Our goal has never changed,” said Stubbs. “We want to be really competitive. We want to be bang there come the end of the season and competing for the league. And we feel as if we’ve got a group of players that can mount a challenge.”