BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Colin Stein reckons even a Hibs win against Rangers on Sunday may not be enough to spark a lasting Championship challenge.
Stein will watch two of his former clubs go head-to-head in a eagerly-anticipated match that will be pivotal to both teams’ desperate aims of promotion back to the top-flight.
Rangers currently hold all the aces, with an unblemished league record giving them a commanding eight-point advantage as they prepare to head to Easter Road, where they won 6-2 in the Petrofac Training Cup back in July.
A victory for the Ibrox outfit, stretching their lead to 11 points, would see many declare the title race over even before the arrival of winter.
A home victory, though, would give the capital side, who lost the league game between the teams 1-0 in August, hope of reining in an opposition that put paid to their promotion chances in last season’s tense play-off semi-final.
However, Stein, who began his career with Hibs before moving in 1968 to Rangers for a then Scottish record fee of £100,000, doubts whether Mark Warburton’s side would even allow a five-point lead to slip through their grasp as they try to haul the fallen Old Firm giants back into the Premiership.
Stein said: “The onus is on Hibs to win the game. They’re a few points back and if they don’t get the result on Sunday then it’s going to be hard for them.
“They certainly need to win the game – and even if they win they’re going to struggle a bit to overtake Rangers.
“And if it goes to 11 points that’s four victories they need to get more than Rangers, which is a tall order the way Rangers are playing.
“I watched the league game at Ibrox and it was a good game. It was pretty even and it took a good free-kick to win the game.
“I don’t think there’ll be much in it again, although obviously Hibs are at home and they’re hard to beat.
“Hibs had two good chances at Ibrox but didn’t take them. They also didn’t take chances in the game at Easter Road and you’ve got to take your chances if you’re going to win games.”
Stein, a scorer in Rangers’ 1972 European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph, sees more of the Light Blues these days because of his role as a match-day ambassador in the Ibrox hospitality suites, but would love for both his former clubs to get themselves back into the Premiership.
“I’d like to see the two of them back in the top league,” he added. “They’re bigger clubs than being in the Championship and they should be in the Premiership.
“It’s been a long, hard haul for Rangers but I think with Hibs it’s different – they were 2-0 up against Hamilton in the play-off a couple of seasons ago and they should never have been beaten at home in the second-leg.”
There can only be one winner this weekend, however, and Stein reckons Hibs will have to be careful with their tactics against a Rangers side that has scored 34 times in sweeping all opposition aside.
Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs has promised to ‘have a go’ at their visitors on Sunday, but Stein reckons if they are too attack-minded it could play into Rangers’ hands.
He explained: “I don’t know how they’re going to approach it but if Hibs are going to attack Rangers then I think they’ll be vulnerable.
“They’ll have to watch themselves if they allow Rangers to counter-attack. If they do that, I think Rangers will pick them off and beat them.
“If Hibs have a go at Rangers early on, they might suffer. It depends on whether the go gung-ho from the start of the game or not. I think they’ve got to be cautious.
“If Hibs get the crowd behind them and get an early goal it will be a hard game for Rangers but if Rangers sit back they could pick them off.
“I’ll watch it on the telly and I think it will be a good game, and a good advert for Scottish football, never mind the Championship.
“They two teams are definitely good enough to be in the Premiership.”