Alan Stubbs: Hibs need to concentrate on Morton clash

In England they refer to the challenge of scaling the heights in a humdrum assignment following more glamorous adventures as 'doing it on a Tuesday night at Stoke'.

Alan Stubbs and Hibs captain David Gray wore unity bands at training yesterday to promote World Cancer Day on Thursday. Picture: SNS

Hibernian are faced with the Scottish equivalent: can they reach the heights of Saturday’s League Cup semi-final win over St Johnstone on a Tuesday night in Greenock?

Stubbs is aware the slightly more low-rent surrounding at Morton’s Cappielow, where his side visit for the first time this season, offers sceptics the chance to further question Hibs’ ability to slum it. Hibs’ bid to re-focus is further hindered by the proximity of Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth-round appointment with Hearts at Tynecastle, as well as the added difficulties blown in by storm Henry.

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“The good thing about it is that it’s a good pitch,” said Stubbs. “We’re hoping the wind has died down come kick-off time. We’re hoping Henry goes away and we can get on with business.”

The business to which he refers is of the league variety. It remains Hibs’ main concern. Unsurprisingly, Stubbs has no doubts about which of this week’s appointments take priority. He described tonight’s fixture, which hands Hibs the chance to move to within five points of leaders Rangers, 
as “more important than 
Sunday”.

Except for Hibs running out at Hampden Park to play Ross County in the League Cup final on 13 March, little else is guaranteed to happen this season. Much remains within the Easter Road club’s reach, including a treble of sorts. But Stubbs is unwavering in his contention that promotion remains top of the list of priorities, preferably as champions.

In order to make sure the players were all on message, Stubbs gathered them together in the same room yesterday where he later met with reporters. The table tennis table was pushed into one corner as the seriousness of the next day’s game was underlined. “We had a discussion before you came in in this room,” he revealed.

“It was fantastic at the weekend. They deserve all the pats on the back and the plaudits. But it’s gone. It’s on the back burner now for six weeks.”

Stubbs revealed some players had come in with a “spring in their step”. Others, though, had “mixed emotions” about Celtic’s defeat to Ross County on Sunday, despite it meaning that, as well as some loan players being permitted to play in the final, it surely hands Hibs a greater chance of success.

Liam Henderson can now look forward to being available for Hampden, with his parent club having now been eliminated. But Stubbs admitted the midfielder was feeling slightly torn. “On the one hand he is happy that he’s potentially going to be able to play in a cup final,” he said. “On the other hand, he’s disappointed because, at the end of the day, he’s a Celtic fan.”

Despite Hibs having more pressing matters to concentrate on, Stubbs could hardly avoid the subject of the League Cup final.

With Hibs’ chances of winning reckoned to have markedly improved, an even greater
horde from Edinburgh is expected to descend on Glasgow for the final. Of course, such fevered excitement has led to brutal deflation in the recent past, most obviously when Hibs faced Livingston in the final of the same competition in 2004.

Stubbs believes it will be a different story this time. If Hibs return with the trophy, it will be payback for fans who have endured so much in recent times.

“We’ve got to make sure that we perform for them,” he said. “For the players, the fans have really got behind them, even in the early days when there was still a little bit of animosity and disappointment from relegation. Time is a healer and I’m hoping that they’re getting the rewards for some of the pain they’ve gone through.”