Alan Stubbs has insisted Hibs are ready to “do themselves justice” in tonight’s Petrofac Training Cup clash with Championship favourites Rangers.
The Easter Road coach accepts the Ibrox club are favourites not only to win the first-round tie but the title and automatic promotion to the Scottish Premiership, but he believes his players can more than match a side put together with “probably ten times” his budget.
And after a protracted pre-season, with tonight’s game delayed by ten days as the Govan ground hosted the Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens tournament, the head coach feels both he and his players are itching to get their season underway.
As a former Celtic player, Stubbs is well aware of the focus on him taking on his old adversary – the Rangers manager boss Ally McCoist. But while he’s faced a race against time to put Hibs back on track following the trauma of relegation, he’s adamant the Capital side are up for the challenge, not only of tonight, but for the 36-match league campaign. After six warm-up matches which saw Hibs lose just once and concede only one goal, a record dismissed as “counting for nothing”, Stubbs said: “I personally can’t wait for it. I am looking forward to it and speaking on behalf of the players, I know they are.
“It’s a brilliant opportunity for us to go and show people what great strides we have made in such a short space of time. I’ve had people talking about what it’s like for me, but it’s not about me, it’s about Hibernian Football Club going to Ibrox to try to win a game.
“The players are excited. I’m sure there will be a few nerves before the game, but I don’t think I ever approached a season as a player without having nerves before the first match. But I really want them to
express themselves, to play the way I want them to play, not to change our mentality and philosophy just because we are going to Ibrox.
“Sometimes when you go to big places the game can be lost before you have actually arrived. I will be emphasising to the players to be as relaxed as possible. We’ll go there with our intentions, knowing exactly how we want to play and we will give it a right go.
“I don’t want them to be pushed into playing a different way. We’re going to have a lot of big games this season and we’ve got to play. The players will go there and, first and foremost, give 100 per cent. But I want them to really have a go.”
Stubbs, who took in Rangers’ final friendly, a 2-0 defeat by Derby County, along with first team coach John Doolan, insisted the pressure is on the Glasgow club, adamant going to Ibrox still poses a sense of trepidation among visiting players despite their fall from grace.
He said: “I think when you are a big club like Rangers there will always be a fear factor. Maybe it’s not the same as it was ten years ago, but there will still be an aura about the place. Big clubs rarely lose that.
“Rangers will always have a fantastic stadium with a fantastic support, they’ll never lose that. It’s still there. But we’ll be focusing on ourselves. It will be a tough game, no-one is denying that. Coisty’s got a squad built with a budget of probably ten times everyone else in the league.
“So that itself brings a pressure, they are at home, their first real game but we’re not going to let anything influence how we play. Hopefully we’ll be calm, cool and with a cutting edge.
“I’ve had a lot of well-wishes from everyone, fantastic from my point of view, but I feel as if my team is ready, they are ready to do themselves justice and are ready for the season ahead.”
Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni is now banned for tonight’s match after the Scottish Football Association acted quickly following the Tunisian’s red card for violent conduct in Saturday’s 2-0 friendly defeat against Derby County.
Mohsni will also miss Rangers’ opening Championship clash with Hearts at Ibrox on Sunday.