BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Alan Stubbs firmly believes Aberdeen are genuine Premiership contenders this season – but he insists he is not worried ‘at all’ for his Hibernian side ahead of this evening’s League Cup tie.
The Dons travel to Easter Road a commanding five points clear of Celtic at the top of the table and seeking an incredible ninth consecutive domestic victory.
Stubbs was at Tynecastle on Sunday to watch tonight’s on-form opponents sweep city rivals Hearts aside with a comfortable 3-1 win that sets them up for a capital double in league and cup in the space of just three days.
However, whilst one TV pundit quipped that Stubbs would be a ‘worried man’ after taking in the match, the Hibs head coach is adamant he is excited rather than intimidated by the prospect of facing the nation’s number one team.
“Aberdeen do look like genuine title contenders at this moment in time,” said Stubbs. “The big question is whether they can sustain that over the course of the season.
“That has always been the case with any team. Can they last the duration of the season, especially when they come up against Celtic, who have the finance and the resources?
“But I have to say, looking at Aberdeen now, and comparing them to last season, they look like a team who could go the course and distance this season.
“I think it’s great. Nobody wants to see a one-horse race – the more the merrier.
“The more teams that can be involved in the shake-up at the top then I think everybody in Scottish football would want that.”
Hibs are themselves seeking a fifth consecutive victory and have secured five clean sheets in a row at home since being dumped out of the Petrofac Training Cup with a 6-2 thrashing from Rangers.
Stubbs believes his own squad, which has been bolstered considerably over the summer months, but will be without the injured Islam Feruz, would compare favourably with the rest of the top-flight had the club not fallen at the play-off hurdle last term and failed to bounce straight back up to the Premiership.
And asked about the suggestion from Sky TV’s Ian Crocker on Sunday that he would be ‘worried’ at facing Derek McInnes’ team, Stubbs added: “I am not worried at all. I am the one who picks the team, I think it is great.
“The day I worry about a team is the day that I am out of football. I think playing Aberdeen is a great challenge for the players.
“Aberdeen are the form team in Scotland and we welcome them to Easter Road and we are going to have a go at them.
“I think with the players we’ve got we can give them a good game. We’re not going to be going out there just worrying about Aberdeen.
“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for them, for Del and his players.
“But they’re coming to Easter Road and our record’s not bad there, so it won’t be easy (for them).
“We had a great tie last season against Dundee United, who were the form team at that time, and we run them close (before losing on penalties).
“And we’re going to try and run Aberdeen as close as we possibly can. To come through the game we’ve got to play really well.
“If you want a test, it’s a big test, but as players I think it’s brilliant. You’ve got the team that’s top of the Premiership coming to Easter Road and there will be a good crowd.
“It’s a test for the players up against some very good players – it doesn’t get any better.”