AFTER months in which Hibernian were in the ascendancy and Rangers in the doldrums, the race to finish second in the Championship took another swing on Sunday when the Ibrox side won at Easter Road. Alan Stubbs knows the onus is on his team to bounce back from that disappointment.
Hibs remain three points ahead of the Glasgow club, but they have played a game more than Rangers, who now appear to have some momentum on their side. For Stubbs, however, that 2-0 defeat could be a blessing in disguise if it prevents his players from presuming that they have done the hard work and are sure to finish ahead of Rangers. The Hibs boss told those players as much immediately after the game, and yesterday he spelled out his reasoning.
“Obviously we wanted to win last Sunday – we want to win every game, that’s stating the obvious,” he said. “But I think if we would have won the game then the euphoria is you’ve beaten them four times in the league. And that can lead to players taking things for granted, sometimes thinking that you’ve got the hoodoo sign over a team, which I don’t believe in.
“I just think it was maybe a good thing in that it’s made the players realise that sometimes you can take things for granted – which I know for a fact they didn’t. It just makes you refocus. It just marks their card and realise that we’re going to have to step up.”
While managers and players alike are often keen to claim they are the underdogs in any contest, Stubbs believes that his team are still favourites to finish ahead of Rangers. “We’ve beaten them three times this season,” he continued. “We know we can beat Rangers.
“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to play each other [in the play-offs]. I think that’s disrespectful to Falkirk and Queen of the South.
It just marks their card and realise that we’re going to have to step upHibs head coach Alan Stubbs
“At this moment in time, we’re sitting in second and if we were to win all our games then we’ll stay in second. That’s what our aim is. We also have a better goal difference, which in itself is the equivalent of a point.
“We’ll just have to wait and see. It was a good result for Stuart [McCall, the new Rangers manager] and for his team. He got a response after people were saying he hadn’t had in his first couple of games.
“He changed his formation and put an extra man in midfield against us. I didn’t actually feel we played badly, but I didn’t necessarily think we played well either.
“I honestly don’t think there was an awful lot in the game. Possession-wise we were virtually the same and both keepers didn’t have a lot to do. But we move on. The fact of the matter is we lost the game and we move on to Raith this week.
“They’ve done well recently. Going by the game and by the reports, people will look at it as if they were a little bit unfortunate against Hearts and it could have gone either way at times.
“The game against Queens during the week was impressive. It’s a great result because Queens have done great this season.
“But I think that’s what Raith are. On their day they can give the top teams a real game, and I don’t see it being any different on Saturday.
“But I think it’s a great game for us. It will be high in intensity and that’s the perfect thing you need after a loss. It makes sure the players aren’t taking anything for granted and makes sure they’ve got to be on their mettle again, they’ve got to be on the ball.
“But we’ve got seven games to go and every one will be treated like it’s the last game. We’ve got seven games and we want to win the seven of them and try and stay in second place. If we can’t, then we want to finish in the play-offs and I think we’ve got a really good chance of doing that.”
Farid El Alagui is close to making his first-team comeback after missing most of the season through injury, and the Frenchman’s fellow striker, Jason Cummings, could also be available tomorrow after missing out last weekend because of concern over a knee that had previously been damaged. “He went for a scan on Monday, more so for peace of mind than anything else,” Stubbs said of Cummings. “Because of his previous injury on it, I think it was playing games with him.
“And we needed to try and eradicate that so he felt a lot more comfortable, with himself more than anything. The scan showed up minimal injury, so we’ve let it settle down. He’s not done anything since last Thursday.”
An already congested season could get more clogged for Hibs if they beat Falkirk in the Scottish Cup semi-final next month and also qualify for the play-off finals. The cup final is scheduled for Saturday, 30 May, and the second leg of the play-off final a day later. Informal discussions have begun about alternative arrangements, but appear to be at a sensitive stage if Stubbs’s reluctance to say too much about the matter is any guide.
“I can’t state what discussions, but we have had some informal talks surrounding what happens if things do materialise the way we want it to. I think what’s been spoken about is a happy medium. I can’t really say too much, but there have been discussions about what happens if we got to x and y.”
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