TIME and again Hibernian head coach Alan Stubbs has stated the unshakeable trust he has in his predominantly young squad, taking the opportunity ahead of their League Cup tie with Aberdeen to again voice his faith in them.
However, as he admitted in the wake of the Edinburgh club’s remarkable victory over a side which had cruised to a five-point lead at the top of the Premiership on the back of eight straight wins, those words would be regarded as no more than empty rhetoric unless those he was speaking about shared his belief.
To that end, Stubbs is firmly of the opinion the events of Wednesday night should have removed any vestige of self-doubt any of his players may still have harboured following a performance which also went a long way to supporting his opinion that they are more than capable of holding their own in the top flight of Scottish football.
Hibernian, of course, have still to get there, that quest continuing, for a second successive season, tomorrow when they return to the “bread and butter” of Championship football, against relegated St Mirren who, like their hosts this time last year, are finding it difficult to adapt to life one tier down.
Stubbs will be aware of the danger of falling flat on his face after hitting the heady heights, but he can certainly take comfort from the fact that Easter Road is slowly but surely looking like the proverbial fortress again.
Take away the irrelevance of the Petrofac Training Cup debacle against Rangers on the opening day of the season and the statistics are impressive – six games played, six straight wins and without goalkeeper Mark Oxley having to bend his back to lift the ball out of the net.
But, as welcome a distraction as defeating Aberdeen might have been, Stubbs insisted full focus must be trained on what remains their primary objective: promotion.
He said: “I think the players are obviously in good spirits, and rightly so. But in football things come quick and fast and you have to move on very quickly.
“Yes, it was a great result all round for the football club, but we are back to our bread and butter and we know that is the most important thing. The cups are a great bonus for us, they are a different element, they take the focus away from the league.
“But we are under no illusions that the league is the most important thing for us.”
Hibs’ recent record will obviously have sent confidence soaring but, Stubbs believes, those goals from Jason Cummings and Dominique Malonga allied to a resolute team performance against what he himself described as the best team in Scotland at the moment and one he sees as genuine title challengers to Celtic, cannot be under-estimated.
He said: “I think sometimes it’s OK me having belief in them, but for the players themselves to have self-belief is very important as well. I do believe when you have good players it is very easy to believe in them – and I have never gone away from that.
“However, I think it is important for individuals and as a team to have self-belief as well. And results like the other night will only enhance that.”
Asked if Malonga’s confidence, in particular, will have benefited, the French-born striker having been on the receiving end following a horrible miss against Livingston only days earlier, Stubbs said: “It will help everyone because they all contributed. We have some really exciting young players and the reason we got a result even if the headlines say it was Jason and Malonga.”
Stubbs did, however, concede that Malonga’s languid style made him something of a “Marmite” character, with the opinion of the club’s support very much divided.
In revealing there had been “a little bit of interest” which came to nothing in regard to Malonga, scorer of 16 goals last season, during the transfer window, he said: “Dom probably gets comments because he is different.
“He is not what you would call a typical centre forward, he has got his own style. Some people might like it, some people might get a little frustrated by it sometimes. But that is the way he is.”
One thing, though, Stubbs insisted everyone would agree upon was the quality of Malonga’s match-clinching goal, one which made up for the misery he had endured at Livingston.
He said: “Dom showed a bit of everything. He showed strength to hold off Niall McGinn, then he showed great balance to check inside Shay Logan and he showed great composure to finish.”