When he scans his first list of league games as St Mirren manager later this week, Alan Stubbs admits he will pay particular attention to the entry on the list which reads “Hibernian (A)”.
The Premiership fixtures for what promises to be one of the most intriguing seasons in Scottish football for many years will be released on Friday morning. The appointment of Stubbs by St Mirren has added to an already fascinating mix of managers who will be plying their trade in the country’s top flight in 2018-19.
The 46-year-old was formally unveiled by the Paisley club yesterday morning after agreeing a three-year contract. It is a move which ends a 20-month hiatus in his career, following his sacking by Rotherham United, and offers him the chance to rebuild a managerial reputation forged in Edinburgh.
Stubbs has conceded he was too hasty in making his ill-fated decision to leave Hibs in the aftermath of the historic 2016 Scottish Cup triumph but is now refreshed and eager for the new challenge provided by Saints.
Pitting his wits against Brendan Rodgers, Steven Gerrard, Steve Clarke & Co will be approached with relish by Stubbs but there will be added personal significance to the first time he returns to Easter Road.
“It will be emotional, because it will always have a place in my heart,” said Stubbs. “I have some fantastic memories from my time there.
“The relationship with Hibs is mutual, it goes both ways, so I will be looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to going to Celtic Park as a manager, which I haven’t done yet. I’m also looking forward to going back to Rangers on the other side of it.
“The profile of the league is only going in one direction, and that’s up. I don’t think it’s just the fact that Steven Gerrard has come in at Rangers this summer, I think Brendan coming in at Celtic initially was the catalyst for it.
“You see Steve Clarke come to Kilmarnock, and then Steven has now chosen to dip his toes in the water at a massive club. Suddenly, you look at Sky and the other broadcasters and there seems to be more airtime for Scottish football now, which is great and can only help generate more money in terms of sponsorship.
“It certainly seems as if there is a real feelgood factor around the whole Scottish game at the moment.
“When I was at Hibs, it was probably the toughest Championship that there’s ever been in Scotland and it was unfortunate that Hearts and Rangers were there to stop us getting out of it. You find yourself now in the Premiership and it’s probably the strongest it’s been for a number of years. Look at the impact Hibs had coming up last year. They were a breath of fresh air, but what that’s done is made it more competitive, which is great, and it’s what everyone wants to see.”
Stubbs, who won 59 of his 100 games during two seasons in charge of Hibs in the Championship, has been impressed by the progress made in Leith by his successor, Neil Lennon.
Several of Hibs’ key players over the past couple of years, including John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch, were signed by Stubbs. While his budget at St Mirren will be more modest, he hopes to be similarly successful in terms of recruitment.
“Neil’s got a good squad at Hibs and it’s something I want to try to emulate here,” he added. “We brought some really good players to Hibs when I was there. It’s something I’m conscious of doing here. If I can get anyone half as good as some of them turned out to be, we’ll be doing okay. But there are not many John McGinns or Dylan McGeouchs about, so I’m going to have to be a little bit creative and hopefully a little bit clever.”
Avoiding an immediate return to the Championship will be regarded as success by most St Mirren fans as they look forward to their club’s first season back in the top flight after a three-year absence. But Stubbs is adamant that simply surviving isn’t the limit of his ambitions as he looks to maintain the momentum established at Saints by his predecessor in the managerial hot seat, Jack Ross, pictured left.
“I’ve not really thought about a league position, I’ve thought about doing as well as we possibly can,” he said. “I wouldn’t have come here to just finish tenth in the table. There’s no point in me sitting at this desk if I was going to come into the club and just want to finish tenth.
“The first bit will be to get to a points tally where we will be safe, then we can take it from there. It’s not in my vocabulary to say that we just want to stay up. I think it’s wrong, and it’s wrong for the fans as well to talk like that.
“We want to be exciting. Where that’s going to take us, I don’t know, but I’ll be looking to bring in some exciting players if I can and really build on the work that Jack has done here. He’s done a really good job, but I’m looking to improve on it. It’s obviously a well-run club and I got a good feeling when I had the initial meeting with all the people on the board.They just came across as good people. I learned from my time at Hibs. Working with good people is important and it just makes you appreciate how that can help you when you’re in the job. I got a good vibe from it. Walking out of the interview, I could see myself working within that structure. They seemed very honest people, which is also very important. So it ticked boxes.”
Stubbs will name his backroom staff later this week and revealed there will be no reunion with his former Hibs and Rotherham assistants, John Doolan and Andy Holden. “I am looking to go a little bit different this time,” he said.
“I don’t think I will be bringing my staff that I’ve had with me previously – nothing to do with anything, it’s just looking at it I think I need something fresh and different.”