Hibs boss Alan Stubbs is relishing the “difficulties” of managing a squad which he feels now has genuine strength in depth in most areas.
The head coach took great heart when he looked at his bench during Tuesday’s 2-0 League Cup win over Ross County and saw plenty of potential game-changers in the shape of Scott Allan, Matty Kennedy, Jake Sinclair, Alex Harris and Paul Heffernan.
The Hibs squad is particularly well-stocked with midfielders, with Sammy Stanton, who was viewed as undroppable under Terry Butcher in the second half of last season, finding himself left out of the squad entirely for the victory in Dingwall, along with Danny Handling.
After inheriting a threadbare squad when he took over in the summer, Stubbs feels the club’s recent recruitment drive has left him spoiled for choice as he mulls over his team for Monday night’s Championship trip to Rangers. “I’ve had a few difficult decisions to make, but it’s nice in a way that we’re having to leave some players out who haven’t necessarily done anything wrong,” he told the Evening News. “Because the strength of the squad is improving, I’m in a position now where I’m making some decisions that some players won’t like, but every decision is made to give the team the best chance to get a result on any given day.”
With such competition for places, Stubbs knows he is having to disappoint players who would ordinarily expect to start most weeks. However, he encouraged those who find themselves left out not to be disheartened and instead take inspiration from the likes of Liam Fontaine and Liam Craig who have been sidelined recently but battled their way back in and played starring roles in Tuesday’s triumph against County.
“They need to understand that being left out is nothing personal or anything like that,” explained Stubbs.
“The team will be rotated around at times so I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for themselves. It’s about reactions and how players deal with it when their opportunity comes round. We had a very strong bench the other night, but we got a result so they should all be happy. They only have to look at Liam Craig and Liam Fontaine, who came into the team the other night after being on the bench for a few games. They didn’t necessarily deserve to be left out but they were different class and a real example to the other lads in terms of how they dealt with it and kept encouraging all the other boys.”
Stubbs is likely to have to utilise his squad depth for Monday’s trip to Ibrox, with Dylan McGeouch expected to be suspended after being shown a straight red card in the win over County. The club are still awaiting official clarification over which games the midfielder will have to sit out, however.
Meanwhile, Celtic manager Ronny Deila appears to have poured cold water on Hibs’ bid to take Leigh Griffiths on a 93-day emergency loan, although he did leave open the possibility of a deal for the out-of-favour striker with the caveat “in football, you never know.”
Deila said: “Leigh Griffiths is our player, so there is no decision to make. We have control of the situation and I want to keep him here. In football, you never know. But right now, there is no offer and Leigh has a future with us. If, in the short term, they (Hibs) were talking about a loan, as it is now, nothing is going to happen. Then he stays here.”