As A former captain of Celtic, Hibs’ manager Alan Stubbs was only too well aware of the claims made repeatedly by fans of teams outside the Old Firm that the two Glasgow clubs are often favoured by match officials, especially when playing at home.
He no doubt paid little heed to such assertions during his days at Celtic, but perhaps the boot is now on the other foot in his new capacity.
For when he was asked yesterday about the necessity for “strong” refereeing for Hibs’ vital Championship clash with Rangers at Ibrox on Monday night, Stubbs did not demur or try to avoid the question.
“Do I want a strong referee?” said Stubbs. “Is that not what we always want? I’m not asking for anything that’s any different. I expect refereeing decisions to be consistent.”
In a clear reference to the controversial denial of a penalty to Falkirk when they lost to Rangers on Tuesday night, Stubbs quipped: “I’m sure Peter Houston would be saying the same thing just now.”
He stressed he hadn’t seen the full Falkirk game: “I’ve seen the highlights and I’ve read about it. I’ve seen the handball…it’s a handball.”
Falkirk manager Houston said his side had been denied a “stonewall penalty” and, of course, Hibs were themselves the victims of a dubious decision when they visited Ibrox for the Petrofac Training Cup first round match at the beginning of last month.
The dismissal of Danny Handling by referee John Beaton for a foul on David Templeton clearly still rankles with the Hibs manager.
“That was a turning point,” said Stubbs. “I don’t think I’m saying anything untoward there. I thought it was a harsh decision at the time and I still think that. We were on top at the time so I personally believe it had a huge bearing on the game.”
Whether Monday night’s referee, Calum Murray, will view Stubbs’s words as an attempt to influence him is a moot point, but fans of both sides will hope for a match that is not decided by refereeing decisions but the kind of entertaining football that was seen in the first encounter of the season.
Most neutral observers gave Hibs great credit for their performance in that match at Ibrox, even though they eventually lost 2-1 after extra time, and now Stubbs wants his men to go a step further. He said: “For us, it’s a great game, we go to Ibrox – a great stadium – and we need to perform as well as we did last time but with a different outcome. That is the way we are looking at it.
“We should take a lot of confidence from the last time and the onus will be on Rangers. They will be the favourites but we need to go there and frustrate them and get the fans against them. If we can frustrate them, that won’t help them.”
Stubbs does not think the off-field brouhaha at Ibrox or the threat of fans’ boycotts will affect what happens on the pitch.
“There have been situations at both clubs from the beginning of the season,” he said. “There have been discussions behind the scenes at Ibrox, to phrase it one way, and I think Ally has dealt with it well, I really do. It’s been one thing after another for him and he has dealt with it well. The biggest praise I can give them is that they have kept getting results, which is not an easy thing to do.”
There is no doubt that Hibs’ confidence has been greatly boosted by the League Cup victory over Premiership club Ross County in Dingwall on Tuesday night, a match in which Stubbs was credited with getting his tactics just right.
“I wouldn’t sit here and say I put on a tactical masterclass,” said the manager. “It is something we worked on and it is pleasing when you get a bit of joy from it. The other night we went with that system because we believed it would get a result. It may be different on Monday – we won’t stick with one formation just because we got a result.
“If we think that’s the way to get a result at Ibrox, we will consider it. I’m sure when Ally sees the teamsheet he will know which way we are lining up, but I want players to be flexible and I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.”
The impact made by Dominique Malonga, scorer of both goals in that victory in Dingwall, visibly pleased Stubbs.
“We scored two fantastic goals the other night,” he said, “which was pleasing from our point of view and for Dominique because, as a striker, sometimes you are judged on goals alone rather than performances.
“We do want to get more goals, we want to break at pace and get bodies in the box so it is pleasing to have shown that. I think sometimes we have played too much in front of teams this season.”
Stubbs has the whole weekend to plot the downfall of Rangers in a match which, paradoxically, would do Hibs’ table-topping Edinburgh rivals Hearts a great favour should the Leithers go back along the M8 with a result. Not that Hibs will worry a jot about that come Monday.