BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
ALAN Stubbs insists not giving Rangers a guard of honour before tonight’s game between the sides should not be viewed as Hibs disrespecting the league champions.
Stubbs would not say as much when questioned on the topic, but Hibs are not expected to clap their visitors on to the pitch when their Scottish Cup final opponents’ play in the league for the first time since sealing their title win.
Last season, Hibs were the first team not to afford city rivals Hearts the honour following the Tynecastle side’s championship triumph after Queen of the South, Rangers and Alloa Athletic had all given the Jambos a pre-match ovation.
The Easter Road outfit claimed that decision was based on safety.
But, whilst that was not presented as a consideration this time round, Stubbs offered plenty of evidence as to why he feels his club should not be seen as displaying bad manners if they allow the occasion to pass without a public show of respect.
Detailing his congratulatory chats with Ibrox counterpart Mark Warburton and assistant David Weir, Stubbs said: “We’re not going to be getting wrapped up in all that. You’ll just have to wait and see.
“If you’re talking about honour, I was probably the first one to ring Mark and David right after the Dumbarton game. It was half 10 at night.
“I actually spoke to them both personally, I didn’t want to just leave a voice mail. I wished them all the best, congratulated them, told them how well I thought they’d done this season. They’ve been the better team over the season.
“So I think that’s quite honourable.
“If you’re asking me, I would say it (a guard of honour) would be better when you are at home. Your last home game of the season, that’s where I would want it.
“But the most important thing is a game of football between two good teams, live on television, showcasing potentially what could be in store come the Scottish Cup final.”
Pressed to say whether Hibs definitely would or would not pay tribute to Rangers before kick-off, Stubbs added: “If we don’t do it, it doesn’t mean we are doing anything wrong as a football club.
“We’ve been very respectful, very honourable in everything.
“I can stand here and say Rangers have been the best team, they deserve to go up as champions. They did very well on Sunday.
“There is no animosity between me and Rangers, my past playing for Celtic has nothing to do with it whatsoever.
“They are worthy champions, and we want to beat the champions.”
The relationship between Stubbs and Warburton has been characterised as tetchy at best at points this season as the two clubs have gone head to head in what began as a fierce battle for the title but finished as a comfortable success for Rangers.
Tonight’s game could see either side lay down a marker ahead of their cup final clash on May 21, but Hibs readily acknowledge the match means so much more to them as they chase the victory they need to maintain a challenge to Falkirk in second spot.
The build-ups to previous meetings with Rangers have seen Stubbs attempt what most have viewed as thinly-veiled mind games.
However, instead yesterday, he was full of praise for his rival.
Stubbs went on: “When I spoke to Mark he was thankful for the phone call. I was probably the last person he expected to hear from, David as well.
“Listen, they’re in a job and they have done a magnificent job up to now. So how can I not be respectful towards, first and foremost, Mark, who has done a great job turning Rangers around?
“David, as part of his backroom staff, has been a huge help to him, and they deserve all the plaudits they are getting right now.”
Meanwhile, Stubbs insists he faced an easy choice in deciding that Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final hero, Conrad Logan, will lose his place in goals to Mark Oxley for tonight’s game.
Logan turned in a man-of-the-match display and saved twice in the decisive penalty shoot-out to earn Hibs a shot at cup glory next month.
But the goalkeeper, who turned 30 on Monday, was playing in his first game in 16 months because of injury and his performance belied his portly shape.
Although Oxley is free from the cup suspension that precluded him from playing at Hampden at the weekend, supporters have claimed Logan should retain his place.
But Stubbs, who revealed striker Farid El Alagui has a torn muscle in his groin but could be fit before the cup final, said: “It was a straight-forward decision. Conrad has done really well. He’s put in a man-of-the-match performance, something he will remember forever.
“What he has done is lift the competition for places a considerable degree. That’s all you can do. He has come in and performed excellently, providing competition for that place. He’s certainly chomping at Mark’s heels.”
When it was put to him that some fans may not take too kindly to his decision, he added: “That’s why I am the manager. That’s why at the weekend it was my decision to play Conrad and not Otso Virtanen – and I got that one right.”