Alan Stubbs once helped edge fellow centre-half John Hughes out of the door at Celtic, which makes him doubly wary of his old team-mate doing all he can to knock Hibs out of the Scottish Cup.
Hughes, whose Inverness Caledonian Thistle side play Hibs tomorrow, already has abundant motivation on his return to Easter Road, where his managerial tenure came to an unhappy end in 2010.
It is possible he can also scent panic in Hibs’ ranks following three successive defeats, by Morton, Dumbarton and Queen of the South. Stubbs, however, denies his players are feeling the pressure.
He did, though, volunteer the information that an inquest, the first he’d seen it conducted by the players, had broken out in the away dressing room after Tuesday’s defeat in Dumfries.
“It is the first time I have had to see it – but then it is the first time we have lost three games in a week,” he said. “Sometimes you can learn more from losing than winning. As a player, sometimes you don’t think why it went right. You roll from game to game. But when you get defeats you start to ask yourself more questions.”
This, he said, was encouraging. Stubbs stressed there was never any danger of the discussions getting out of hand.
“I would not have allowed it to be heated,” he said. “I am the one who puts the heat in there, if there is going to be heat. There will be no pointing fingers.
“Calling someone a bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep is not going to solve anything, pointing your finger at someone and saying you are not doing this is not going to solve anything either. It is the easiest thing in football to point your finger.”
Stubbs is being careful not to be hard on his players – in public at least. He pointed out that they have recently negotiated perhaps the most arduous schedule in British football, having played nine times in 30 days. While it might have been a testing time physically, spirits are still high.
“It’s still very good,” Stubbs said of the mood at a club anticipating a League Cup final against Ross County next Sunday as well as tomorrow’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Inverness.
“It’s been a disappointing week from a results point of view but it is small margins,” he added. “I could be sitting in front of you now talking about three wins. That’s how much we’ve played in those games. It’s been frustrating as well as disappointing but in the bigger picture, nothing has drastically changed.”
While some fans might argue with this observation – by the time Hibs kick off tomorrow, Stubbs’ side might have slipped to third place in the Championship – it is true that two of the three defeats in the last ten days could have gone either way. Only against Morton can Hibs be said to have underperformed badly and, even then, they made a bright start.
But Premiership opposition is a different matter, as are cup holders. While Hibs are unbeaten in five games this season against teams from the top flight, Stubbs acknowledged that Inverness have extra reason to want to prevail. “When you’re the holders, you try that little bit harder to stay the holders,” he said.
Then there is Hughes, with whom Stubbs played for a very short while at Celtic. Stubbs arrived from Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 1996, Hughes left for Hibs in November the same year, having lost his place in the side.
“We weren’t team-mates for a long time,” he said. “I came in and Yogi left not long after that, but in a short space of time you could see why everybody liked him. He’s an infectious guy. He’s a winner.
“He’s always been a good guy whenever I’ve spoken to him and he’s done really well,” added Stubbs. “He’s got his own ways of playing. Since he’s gone into management he’s had success wherever he’s been. I think we played a few games together. I just did what he told me to do. He was great. He is character.
“Everybody loved him but unfortunately me coming probably led to John going. That happens. In the short time that we were there I really enjoyed being around him and playing alongside him.”
Stubbs knows Hughes will be keen to prey on Hibs’ fears over losing a fourth successive game prior to next weekend’s cup final. But he is also aware that two wins in the next eight days will mean his players are the “best thing since sliced bread again”.
Stubbs noted with a smile that clubs are still being linked with his stars, following speculation about Norwich City’s interest in Jason Cummings, so they can’t suddenly have become poor players. Tomorrow is a test of mettle, however, the outcome of which many will be interested to learn.
Stubbs has noted how some Hibs fans are intoxicated by the thought of a long overdue Scottish Cup success, and would take that above all else on offer this season. He is not so persuaded by that line of thinking. His main target is still promotion, despite recent waning form.
“That’s our priority,” said Stubbs. “I understand and appreciate the anticipation and the history that goes with the Scottish Cup. But I have said all along, they will win it one year. That’s inevitable.
“They’ll win it one year. When? Unfortunately I cannot give them [the fans] that answer. But I can try and help them, while I am here. We have certainly given ourselves an opportunity to do it [this year].”