IT MIGHT only have been four weeks ago this afternoon. However, Alan Stubbs believes there is little point reading too much into Hibs’ defeat by Rangers that kicked off the competitive campaign for both clubs.
Of course, there is reason to suggest he desperately hopes little can be read into it, since Hibs were on the wrong side of a 6-2 thrashing by Mark Warburton’s new-look Ibrox side in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup. But despite being so recent, it is true plenty has changed since a game that took place in such a Scott Allan-dominated context.
For one thing, the Allan saga has now concluded. Stubbs will be free to play whom he wishes tomorrow at Ibrox, new signing Dylan McGeouch included. There will be no external influences impacting on the Hibs manager’s personnel choices like there were four weeks ago, when he decided to name Allan on the bench as Rangers continued their pursuit of the midfielder.
In surreal scenes, the away fans applauded his every touch after Allan appeared as a second-half substitute. Meanwhile, the home supporters’ fears about the season ahead deepened.
But Allan’s talents have now been lost to both sides, with Celtic the beneficiaries of Hibs’ determination not to sell to a promotion rival. Indeed, it is possible to argue Hibs, having at one point looked so doomed to losing Allan to Rangers, have emerged happiest from the saga; after all, as well as pocketing a sum estimated to be around £300,000, they have gained the on-loan services of Liam Henderson, who little more than a year ago was regarded as every bit as promising as Allan.
As of last night, Hibs have also succeeded in sealing midfielder McGeouch’s move back to the club from Celtic, this time on a permanent three-year contract and for an “undisclosed” fee. Winger Martin Boyle, who was still recovering from injury when Rangers visited, is included in tomorrow’s squad, handing Stubbs further options.
On the subject of Henderson, Stubbs was particularly effusive yesterday. Certainly more so than when asked whether he was relieved the saga over Allan had been put to bed given the identity of this weekend’s opponents. “Scott who?” he wondered, with a smile.
“I think everyone is relieved,” he added. “Both clubs are. We have both drawn a line under it. Scott plays for a different club now. We have already moved on. So it is good. But we are not a one-man team either.”
He seemed to imply that Henderson has the potential to be every bit as good as Allan, possibly even better. “I honestly think Liam is going to be a top, top player,” he continued. “He is different to Scott in every sense of the word. Scotty has fantastic attributes, but so has Liam. He gives you a different side to your game when you haven’t got the ball. He gives you that work rate.
“He has the stamp of a top player,” he continued. “You have to see him in training. He knows all the time the different options he has on, an understanding of where he is, what he has got on. I am really, really looking forward to – hopefully – helping in his development. He is going to be top-class.”
So it is understandable if Stubbs is viewing last month’s cup clash against Rangers as ancient history. It was an odd afternoon in any case. At one point, it seemed as if Hibs were about to canter to victory after opening the scoring through Sam Stanton.
“From when you weigh up the game, from leading 1-0 to losing 6-2, that hurts,” reflected Stubbs, who confirmed Alex Harris had left the club for a season-long loan with Queen of the South. “There were key moments in the game which contributed to it significantly. From at one point going in at half-time potentially 2-1 up we were going in 2-1 down and then we conceded quickly after half-time. We contributed significantly to our own downfall.”
“We have not revisited the game,” he added. “But we have worked on elements of the game where we can be better. That game was in the cup and this is the league, so it is completely different even though we are playing the same team. The Petrofac Cup was not at the top of our list of priorities. But we go into a game on Sunday that is at the top of our list.”
While it might be devoid of the Allan angle, some extra spice has of course been added due to an apparent “war of words” between Stubbs and Warburton, his opposite number. This was whipped up after some comments made by the Hibs manager earlier this week when he suggested it was “very easy” to rebuild a squad, as Warburton is endeavouring to do at Rangers, when you have access to transfer funds. The Rangers manager replied by requesting Stubbs “keep his mouth shut” because he has no knowledge of the facts.
Stubbs admitted he was “surprised” by Warburton’s spiky response since he was only stating the obvious. “I said that Mark’s done a really good job and brought in some really good players to the squad,” he added. “As a manager, when you have funds available, it’s easier to bring in good players. Is that not a fact? When you’ve got no money it’s hard and when you’ve got money it’s easier. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.”
Nevertheless, he expected to be able to discuss things further with Warburton over a drink tomorrow, whatever the result. “It’s very good, very good,” he said, with reference to their relationship. “I’ll shake his hand before the game – and I’m expecting him to give me a drink after the game.”