HIBERNIAN manager Alan Stubbs was yesterday moved to express sympathy for Kenny McDowall after the revelation from the acting Rangers manager that he had been told he must play all five loanees recruited from Newcastle United.
Stubbs refused to be drawn into the debate over the fairness of the moves that led to Hibs’ Championship rivals sealing temporary moves for the quintet on transfer deadline day. Instead, Stubbs proved more at ease pondering the predicament his Ibrox counterpart finds himself in.
“It’s tough for Kenny, I feel for him,” said Stubbs, a player at Celtic when McDowall took the club’s reserves. “It’s not a position I would want to be in, but he’s been very honest and I think he has to be applauded for being honest, if anything.”
Stubbs danced around the question of whether the honesty of the competition for play-off slots in Scotland’s second tier had been compromised by Mike Ashley foisting five of his players on Rangers. The Newcastle owner is effectively controlling and propping up the financially-stricken Ibrox club with a series of loans.
“I think we’ve brought five great signings in and what happens at other clubs is nothing to do with me,” Stubbs said. “I’m sure it’s all above board, if it’s not I’m sure the SFA would not have allowed it.”
The Hibs manager was unwilling to ruminate on whether the infusion of English Premier League fringe players would be a ‘game changer’ as his team vies with Rangers to earn promotion through the play-offs at the end of a Championship campaign in which Hearts are runaway leaders. “I don’t know. And you’re not going to get me to comment on it,” Stubbs smiled. “My task is what my task is, it won’t make any difference. We’ve got a good team and when you have a good team you have a good chance against anyone.”
Hibs travel to Ibrox next Friday and are likely to come up against three of Rangers’ recruits from Newcastle in the form of Slovenian striker Hans Vuckic, Burundi-born midfielder Gael Bigirimana and English defender Remie Streete. The two other loan signings, Northern Ireland winger Shane Ferguson and Swiss defender Kevin Mbabu, are not expected in Scotland until next month due to injury.
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Stubbs insists it won’t be a trip into the unknown for him, despite the new faces. The Hibs manager came up against them in his previous job as coach of Everton’s development side during matches against Newcastle reserves.
“It’s a good job I’ve seen quite a few of them play for Newcastle. At least I know quite a bit about them,” Stubbs said. “My teams have played against Vuckic, and against Bigirimana. I know enough about them to be able to tell the team what their strengths and weaknesses are. They’re good players, they will all be additions to Kenny’s team. What he’s been told, he’s been told. I’m glad I’m happy with my team.”
Having worked his charms on Scott Allan, Stubbs is excited about the potential for revitalising the career of another of Scotland’s brightest hopefuls of recent years following the capture of Fraser Fyvie only hours after the 21-year-old midfielder was freed by Wigan Athletic on Monday. As a 16-year-old with Aberdeen, Fyvie was talked about in the same glowing terms as Allan, who has been able to recapture the form he enjoyed with Dundee United before losing his way in England.
“Scotty [Scott Allan] felt he could talk to me and that he had someone that would listen, he felt he could tell me things that maybe he would not do to other people and luckily for us we’re getting the benefit of that now. Fraser will be exactly the same,” said Stubbs. “We’ll work with him, work on his game but at least we’ve got something to start with. He’s got ability.
“We had been aware of Fraser for probably the last month. I knew of him at Wigan. He had a decent first season but then he went through a change of managers and for every player that can affect you. One manager likes you, another manager has another opinion. I’ve got a real quality player that’s maybe lost a little bit of focus and confidence and just needs readjusting and getting back on track.
“We gave Scotty an opportunity, we knew he was a player of good ability but had also maybe lost his love of the game and didn’t feel wanted. It was just a matter of sitting down, working with him and giving him a little bit of love, telling him he’s a good player and getting his confidence back, basically believing in him.
“If Fraser can have a similar impact to Scotty then we’ll all be delighted. Fraser was part of that crop that everyone was really excited [about] and he was at the top of that crop. For whatever reason it has not happened. Maybe coming back to Scotland can reinvigorate him.”