Alan Stubbs lauded for Fergie-style psychology at Hibs

Alan Stubbs celebrates Hibs' draw at Hearts. Pic: SNS
Alan Stubbs celebrates Hibs' draw at Hearts. Pic: SNS
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As a youngster at Aberdeen, Steve Cowan witnessed at first-hand Alex Ferguson messing with the heads of opposition managers and players.

The Dons boss became a master of psychological warfare, both at Pittodrie and, of course, during his many years of success with Manchester United.

Steve Cowan, fourth right in the top row, was part of a successful Aberdeen side in the 80s. Pic: SNS

Steve Cowan, fourth right in the top row, was part of a successful Aberdeen side in the 80s. Pic: SNS

Alan Stubbs is obviously a long way from drawing any comparison to Sir Alex, but former Hibs striker Cowan admitted he’s enjoyed the ripples the young head coach has created this season, not least his observation that the Easter Road side are currently involved in three competitions which drew headlines claiming he was targeting a treble.

But to Cowan’s mind Stubbs had done nothing wrong. “No-one was giving Ronny Deila criticism for talking about winning the treble,” said Cowan. “I don’t recall Stubbs saying Hibs would win one, he simply stated the fact that his side are in three competitions and that there’s no point being in them unless you want to win them.

“Maybe some managers don’t like how he comes across, but I was lucky enough to play under Alex Ferguson for as long as I did. He went for it, he was always at the psychological thing, getting into the minds of the opposition team and their managers.

“What’s wrong, though, with saying ‘we are a good team and we’re coming to win.’ What’s wrong with saying HIbs can win the League Cup or the Scottish Cup? I’m sure Ross County and Hearts will be saying the same things. It’s the same with promotion. He’s coming out with all the right noises, playing it up.

“For so many years there’s not been a lot to talk about, only the occasional good thing. But fans don’t want to hear negative words. Hibs are doing well and there’s nothing at all wrong in saying so.”

Talking the talk is one thing, walking the walk something entirely different. However, to Cowan, a regular observer at Hibs matches through his work with Radio Forth, Stubbs and his players are doing both.

He said: “They are playing a style of football which is really enjoyable to watch. He’s full-backs that get forward, a midfield that want to face up to the opposition, to get the ball forward, get it out wide and crosses into the box. As an ex-striker what a joy that is to see. It’s a team that wants to play footbal with pace and movement, great enthusiasm, energy and stamina.

“Going back to Sunday, even after pulling it back to 2-2 and with only two or three minutes remaining they were still trying to win the game. But when you are doing well you don’t feel tired, you feel as if you can run all day. John McGinn in particular has done well over the last few weeks and looks a great signing, but he’s well backed up by Liam Henderson, Fraser Fyvie, Dylan McGeouch and Marvin Bartley. They’ve all contributed to what has been a great team effort.”

Cowan also feels Stubbs has gathered together a squad which is not only well balanced but has strength in depth, as evidenced by those two trips to Tynecastle which sandwiched a vital Championship match against Morton at Cappielow, a hectic schedule which saw the head coach make use of the numbers available to him.

And it was again highlighted against Hearts, Hibs having to overcome the loss of McGeouch in the first half and then skipper David Gray early in the second.

Cowan said: “Stubbs was able to bring on Kevin Thomson for McGeouch and while some might have questioned him coming back again, he had a calming influence.

“Then Niklas Gunnarsson came on for Gray and I thought he did quite well. Down at Cappielow Stubbs had shaken things up a bit, leaving Jason Cummings and one or two others out, while Liam Fontaine was on the bench on Saturday, which shows Stubbs has plenty to choose from.

“Marvin Bartley hadn’t featured in the first two games last week, but he came in for the Scottish Cup match and had a good game. Every team needs that type of player. It’s great to have the players Hibs have going forward, but you also need someone to watch the back door and I feel Bartley does that well.

“He’s a big, strong lad but he reads the game well. He anticipates things, allows you to muscle your way into games to let you play, getting the ball and playing the simple pass. He compliments the others going forward.”

However, as exciting a squad as Stubbs might have, Cowan credits the former Everton and Celtic defender with changing the mindset at Easter Road. He said: “I think he’s totally dispelled the notion that Hibs are ‘bottlers’ for two reasons. There’s a winning mentality, the ability to go from a semi-final to a Tuesday night at Cappielow and back to an important cup game away to your biggest rivals.

“But there are also players 
in the team like Henderson, McGinn and McGeouch with a different mentality to players Hibs have had in the past. They’d all enjoyed some success and they’ve brought that with them, that different 
mentality not to mention their talent and ability.

“Stubbs has also mentioned on several occasions that he has great trust in his players, that even at 2-0 down against a team sitting third in the Premiership he still didn’t think his team were going to lose the game.

“There’s a great belief among the players, but they also have a freedom to go and play. Against St Johnstone and again on Sunday they were at it right from the off, it was all about getting the ball forward quickly, to get it into Cummings and Anthony Stokes. But they were also well organised, getting back in numbers and keeping their shape.”

Cowan believes Tuesday’s replay remains too close to call, saying: “Hibs will feel they have a bit momentum after that comeback, but they’ll still be under no illusions that they will be playing a very good team and as Robbie Neilson has said, Hearts will looking forward to going to Easter Road and finishing it off.

“It promises to another epic battle between two teams that we are well matched.”

Before then, though, Hibs travel to Livinston on Saturday evening, well aware that with Championship title rivals Rangers eight points clear, there remains no room for any errors.

Cowan added: “Hibs are in the position of having to hope Rangers slip up. Even with the great run they are on, they know they need to get the three points on Saturday.”