Hibs boss Alan Stubbs today admitted high-flying Hearts are the team to catch – but insisted the Tynecastle outfit are not unbeatable.
And while 14 points separate the Capital rivals – the Jambos sitting proudly at the top of the Championship table and Hibs in fourth place – Stubbs was adamant that on the evidence of the first derby in Gorgie earlier in the season there is, in fact, little between the clubs.
Claiming it would have been “interesting” had skipper Liam Craig converted a first-half penalty on a day when Hearts went on to win 2-1, the Easter Road head coach, right, said: “Obviously Hearts have started the season really well, but we are not afraid of them. As far as I was concerned, there was not a lot in the game at Tynecastle. We had an opportunity to put ourselves in the lead and it would have been interesting had that happened.
“Unfortunately, the result did not go our way, but the game could have gone either way.”
The rest, as they say, is history, which is exactly the approach Stubbs will be taking to tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off. Despite Hearts’ recent domination in the fixture, the former Celtic and Everton defender argues that he can hardly be judged on what may have happened before he took over in the summer.
He insisted: “It can be psychological, but whether one team has the hoodoo or whatever you want to call it over another team, it will change. It’s just a matter of time before it will change. If people want to argue with that then I am afraid they are wrong. It all depends what side of the fence you want to judge it from.”
While Hearts’ unbeaten record has been highlighted, Stubbs feels his side’s own five-match unbeaten run has been somewhat ignored, although he believes form counts for little in derby matches. He said: “I’ve gone into a lot of derbies in good form, and in inferior form to the opposition, and it didn’t count for anything at times.
“I’d like to be going into a derby all the time in good form, don’t get me wrong. But it sometimes goes out of the window. What does it take to win derbies? Courage, carrying out your game plan, not getting caught up in the emotion, being better than them, all those things. There’s no one thing you can stick your finger on.
“There are many elements which decide if you can win games of football, better decision making, creating opportunities, taking opportunities.
“Derbies can make you do stupid things, they can make you do good things. Things can change on a sixpence, whether it’s a moment of madness or a moment of brilliance or a decision. But I feel that more often than not it’s the team that handles the occasion the best, the one that settles down into their stride and gameplan and carries it out better than the other team.”
Adamant his entire focus – as will be expected of his players – will be on winning tomorrow, Stubbs refused to enter the debate about whether or not Robbie Neilson’s side have what it takes to negotiate the remainder of the season unbeaten.
He said: “That’s not my conversation to talk about, I am not really interested. If that’s what people want to talk about, then fine. But we will be looking to try to stop them doing that. They have made an impressive start to the season and we will be trying to put a dent in it.
“We respect them, they are the team to catch. There’s no denying that, but they are catchable.”
Stubbs will make a late decision on the fitness of defender Liam Fontaine, who is battling a thigh injury. He said: “He has made progress, whether that’s enough for him to be fit only time will tell.”