BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
When Alan Stubbs says he considers football teams as being moulded in their manager’s image, he was never going to accept presiding over a Hibernian team with the kind of soft centre it was accepted they suffered from prior to his arrival.
As he prepares to take them west tomorrow for a crucial encounter with Rangers at the top of the Championship, it is fair to say he believes the Easter Road side are a different animal.
Stubbs was a battle-hardened defender in his day as a player and has had a different kind of struggle to wage as a survivor of testicular cancer. He is not one to back down from a fight and could even be considered as having picked one on a few occasions this season with his carefully-chosen words about Rangers and their manager, Mark Warburton.
A series of big-game collapses and the gut-wrenching penalty-kicks defeat to Hamilton that plunged them into the Championship was all the evidence most needed to suggest there was a psychological flaw at the heart of Hibs before Stubbs’ tenure began last year, but the former Celtic and Everton defender believes he has succeeded in addressing their mental deficiencies.
From being in danger of going 11 points behind Rangers just a matter of weeks ago, Hibs can now stretch three points clear with a victory and Stubbs is thrilled with the determination and resolve they have displayed in eking out injury-time goals to draw with Falkirk and defeat Queen of the South in recent weeks.
“Rightly or wrongly there have been accusations thrown at the team over the years,” he said. “When I first came it was one of the things I wanted to address. It’s my team, it reflects me, and they have come a long way, they have made huge progress.
“I can honestly say that the last two results, not a chance we would have done that when I came in.
“We are winning, we have put belief in players. They are allowed to make mistakes, they know they have a chance of achieving something this year and when you have that the hunger and desire comes through.
“It’s great to see. You don’t win games of football in the 93rd minute with nine men if you don’t have a certain type of character.”
One player who embodies the spirit Stubbs has fostered is defender Darren McGregor, who began the season as Rangers’ player of the year but is now desperate to ensure Hibs pip his old team to the Championship title.
The 30-year-old grew up a Hibs supporter and has confessed it would be a ‘dream come true’ to help return his boyhood heroes to the top-flight this season.
And if they do pull off a shock and beat Rangers to the automatic promotion spot, the former Cowdenbeath and St Mirren stopper believes Stubbs will have played key role in the way he has backed his players – often publicly in his public spats with opposite number Mark Warburton.
He said: “A lot of credit needs to go to the gaffer. With his man-management skills, he has a very good rapport with the players that makes you want to play for him.
“You can have all the tactical know-how, but if you have not got that rapport with the players and man-management skills then it is no use – and I just think he has got it.
“He is held in great affection in the dressing room. The boys want to play for him.
“It is how you interact with people. The camaraderie and togetherness that the manager has built is very hard to get with 18-20 strangers, to get them to want to play for each other.”