BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Alan Stubbs reckons Hibs’ 6-2 hammering at the hands of Rangers was the “kick up the a***” his side needed to launch their Championship charge.
The anticipation is building ahead of Monday’s title clash at Ibrox, which could see the capital club knock the Gers off top spot for the first time this season after obliterating an 11-point deficit.
It will be the fourth time the sides have met this season and there is no love lost between gaffers Stubbs and Mark Warburton as the mind games are cranked up.
The first encounter between the rivals took place at Easter Road in August as the Hibees shipped six of the best against their Glasgow foes to crash out of the Petrofac Training Cup.
Yet, Stubbs reckons that was the best thing that could have happened to his side.
The Hibs boss said: “It gave me a kick up the backside because I knew what I had to do – and it gave the team a kick up the a***!
“We had finished the previous season very well – unfortunately just missing out in the play-offs – and that result re-focused them, it really gave them a reminder.
“That made them realise: ‘If you think you’re going to have it all your own way this season then you’re kidding yourself on.’
“I don’t want to disrespect any cup, but it was the least of our targets and it would have been the least of Rangers’.
“But I could see looking around the dressing room it hurt them and it jolted them into life a little bit, to be honest. However, I knew we were going to get stronger.”
While Hibs have gone from strength to strength this term and are currently on a run of 15 wins from 17 games, Rangers are stumbling towards the new year.
And Stubbs, who this week suggested Warburton was ‘in denial’ regarding the Gers’ form, reckons Hibs deserve the lions’ share of the credit for forcing their rivals to slip up.
He continued: “We’ve moved on and got stronger as a club. People will say since we beat Rangers, they’ve dropped points and we’ve caught them because of that.
“Is it not because we’ve been winning and putting pressure on? That’s what happens. There’s no way on earth Rangers haven’t been looking at us.
“They can deny it until they are blue in the face, but they knew we were there. They know we are there, just like we look at the results at 4.50pm.
“Their players would have been looking at our results and, after dropping points, thinking: ‘Oh, there’s another couple of points dropped, or another three points dropped and it’s getting closer and closer.’”
And Stubbs reckons that relentless streak is the mark of a new Hibs, a million miles from some of the soft-centred sides of old.
He added: “We have a never say-die-spirit at the moment. We keep going and I don’t think you have been able to say that about a Hibs team for a number of years.
“We are trying to change things. Slowly but surely, I think we have a really exciting team. We have some fantastic talented young players and we want them to play on the biggest stage.”