Reflecting on the unfamiliar disappointment of defeat, Hibernian head coach Alan Stubbs has said that Wednesday’s blown opportunity to close the gap on Rangers does not alter his, or the club’s, overall ambition for this season.
Insisting that he always said there would be twists and turns before the Championship race reaches its conclusion, the fact that Hibs are still eight points behind Rangers with just 11 games remaining means that going up as league winners is more of a long shot.
Refusing to throw in the towel, he has taken a more reasoned outlook. “I still think there’s one or two twists. That result makes it more difficult for us to go up as champions but it doesn’t change what our targets are,” he said. “It does not make it any easier for us.
“I don’t want to take any credit away from Morton, they deserve their victory. They took their opportunities and we never. But, in the first 20 minutes, the game could have been over if we had taken our chances. We never and we were then guilty of conceding a couple of poor goals and when you do that, it makes it very difficult.
“I think the most important thing, from my point of view anyway, is that there’s not a knee-jerk reaction to one result. I’ve not been here talking about this type of result for quite some time and there will certainly be no knee-jerk reaction from me or anyone here. It wasn’t a good night at the office – you go again.
“Obviously we don’t want defeats, that goes without saying, but the players know exactly what is in front of them. They are as disappointed as anybody because they want to achieve our main goal, which is promotion. But I must stress that Wednesday night does not deter us from what we want to achieve. I’ve said all along we want to go up, preferably as champions, but if not champions then we want to go up through the play-offs. The result does not stop us from doing either of them. It just makes one of them more difficult.”
Looking to bounce back from the Morton defeat, which was only their second loss in 29 games in all competitions , Hibs will travel to Dumbarton tomorrow, aware that the margin for error is now extremely narrow when it comes to title aspirations.
The solid run of results in the league, in which they have lost just four of their 25 games thus far, means Hibs are virtually assured a play-off slot and they enjoy a five-point cushion over Falkirk, their nearest challengers for second place. But, should he have to settle for pitching for a place in the top flight via the play-offs, the fact that his men have performed so well against loftier opponents this term gives Stubbs cause for optimism, with few of the Premiership’s play-off contenders likely to relish the challenge set by any of those looking to take the step up.
He added: “I think it is testament to the strength of the teams [in the second tier] that the Premiership teams, and there are potentially four who could still find themselves falling into that [play-off] position, none of them want to fall into that position but if they do I don’t think any of them would look forward to playing us or Rangers or Falkirk because of the quality in the teams.
“I think there is a very good opportunity this time. I think we only have to look at our form against Premier league teams this season to see that we would go into it with good confidence.
“But I’m sure that Rangers went into their play-off last season in good confidence and we all know how that went. So, we know that whoever we face, if we do end up facing them, then it will be a difficult game.”