BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
DISAPPOINTED at finishing third he may be, but Alan Stubbs insists he is revelling in the challenge that now faces his Hibernian side as they bid to win promotion back to the Premiership.
There is no doubting that, once the chance of winning the title slipped through their grasp, the Easter Road outfit would have expected to finish in the runners-up spot.
The nine-day break now being enjoyed by Falkirk is not a luxury they have, however, after missing out by just two goals on second spot.
Instead, they are straight back into action against Raith Rovers tomorrow night in a daunting start to what will have to be a gruelling six-match sequence if they are to prevail in the nerve-shredding atmosphere of the play-offs.
With so much at stake, the matches are characterised as tension-filled, pressure-packed encounters that, along with their Scottish Cup final against Rangers, will make or break Hibs’ season.
But Stubbs insists he will not be dogged down by negative talk and is adamant the play-offs should be relished.
He said: “Stressful? When you have got the opportunity to achieve something, I don’t see it as stressful.
“Stressful is when you are trying to stay away from relegation. Stressful is when you have the possibility of going down and people are affected by it, in terms of wages being cut, people losing their jobs.
“Thats stressful. I think this is exciting. I look at as as chance to achieve something. That can’t be stressful – I think it’s brilliant.”
Stubbs will be keeping his fingers crossed that his players feel the same way.
They have certainly risen to the occasion frequently this season, taking the scalps of a quintet of Premiership teams in cup competitions.
Aberdeen, Hearts, Inverness Caley Thistle, St Johnstone and Dundee United, twice, have all been conquered when the chips have been down in one-off, knock-out matches and that is cause for optimism, according Stubbs.
He added: “When we have played against Premiership teams in the big cup games, the players have always responded.
“If anything, some of our best performances have been in those games. I don’t expect anything different in these matches.”
Those who were involved also have the, albeit upsetting, memories of their previous involvement in the play-offs.
The penalty-kicks heartache of relegation at the hands of Hamilton Accies two years ago was followed by the 2-1 aggregate defeat to Rangers at the semi-final stage last season.
On that occasion, Hibs finished the campaign second in the league but found that was not necessarily to their advantage.
However, Stubbs believes both losses can inform his squad’s attempts to make it third time lucky this time round.
He commented: “You have to learn from every experience.
“Last year, we go to Ibrox and it’s a close game. It was the same at Easter Road.
“No matter what, I think all the games in this season’s play-offs are going to be close games.
“We are happy with the way we are going into them and happy with our form, but we know we are going to have to perform very well to come through.”