BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Alan Stubbs felt like he was treading on egg shells with his injury-hit Hibs players this summer.
However, the Easter Road boss reckons his squad is now so strong it won’t crack if he is forced to mix it up.
When the competitive action kicked off with a stunning 6-2 thrashing from Rangers in July, the Hibees were already missing the likes of Farid El Alagui, Danny Handling and Martin Boyle, as well as new signings James Keatings and Danny Carmichael.
When Dominique Malonga and Jordon Forster also picked up injuries in that Petrofac Training Cup tie, Stubbs knew he had to treat his players with kid gloves in case the queue for the treatment table got any longer.
But, although he lost Scott Allan to old club Celtic, the Hibs head coach has since recruited the likes of John McGinn, Liam Henderson and Dylan McGeouch in midfield, Darren McGregor and Adam Eckersley at the back and Jamie Insall, Henri Anier and Islam Feruz up front.
And, with others on the road to recovery, the former Celtic and Everton defender believes he now has the strength in depth to ensure they won’t get in a pickle if injuries strike.
Stubbs, whose side have won three in a row with a hat-trick of clean sheets, said: “I’m pleased with the performances. Since the first game, there’s been an incline in our performances, both the quality and the tempo of them.
“We were having to play a little bit of catch-up, because of a few injuries early on.
“And, if I’ve got to be honest, we were treading on egg shells a little bit with them.
“We were having to hold back a little bit with the training because of the fear we might pick up a couple of other injuries.
“Maybe that affected them in terms of their sharpness.
“The impact on the group as a whole now is not as severe. If we do pick up two or three injuries we’ve not got back-up, but players who are chomping at the bit to get their opportunity to stake a claim to stay in the team.
“We didn’t necessarily have that option early on.
“The continuity of everything is just free-flowing at the moment.
“It’s not a big deal when someone goes out and you think he’s a really important player – because we’ve got really quality players waiting to step in and grab the chance.”
Hibs travel to Livingston tomorrow knowing they can’t afford any more slip-ups following the disappointment of league defeats to Dumbarton and Rangers earlier in the campaign.
They will be without Keatings at Almondvale, but Stubbs has revealed the summer signing from Hearts is due to return to training next week – after scans showed the 23-year-old had not suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury.
Stubbs, who expects Eckersley to be another three weeks on the sidelines following a knee operation prior to signing last week, said: “It’s not a new injury for James, which is really good news. It’s the same one, so we’re talking days rather than weeks.
“He’ll miss this weekend, but there’s every chance he could be involved in training again next week.”