Alan Stubbs believes Hibs are a vastly different club as they prepare for a return to the Premiership than the one which was relegated three years ago.
Stubbs arrived in the wake of that shock demotion which prompted the sacking of Terry Butcher to find the Easter Road club in disarray and with a threadbare squad with which to begin life in the Championship.
And although, ultimately, he was unable to win promotion in either of his two seasons as manager, Stubbs did deliver that historic Scottish Cup win, ending 114 years of misery.
Speaking on the eve of the first anniversary of that win, Stubbs believes the Hibs support was probably split 50/50 as to whether they’d take the cup win ahead of promotion but insisted he was more than happy to have seen his successor Neil Lennon succeed in his first attempt.
He said: “When you look at the bigger picture realistically that was probably the best chance of Hibs going up. That’s not to take any credit away from Neil – I am delighted for him and all the players. I couldn’t be happier.
“The first two years were the most difficult the Championship has ever been. A club the size of Hibs wanted to get out of it, ideally in the first year and other than that, as quickly as possible.
“But the most important thing was building the club to where it is now, for that not to happen again. There were things wrong and that’s why it [relegation] happened. However, behind the scenes with the structures that have been put in place a lot of people will be confident this is a different club now compared to what it was then.”
Not surprisingly Stubbs hails the influence chief executive Leeann Dempster has brought to bear but also insisted chairman Rod Petrie deserved credit for having the courage to bring her in from Motherwell.
He said: “At the time Rod took a lot of criticism. It was a really tough time, but it was a bold move for him to bring Leeann in and it has paid huge dividends.
“Leeann has been a breath of fresh air. George Craig [head of football operations] has done a great job as has Graeme Mathie [head of player identification and recruitment]. There’s a real structure there, you see a lot of meat put on the bone and they deserve a lot of credit for that.”
A feature of Stubbs’ second season as head coach was the regularity with which Hibs took on and defeated Premiership clubs, Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone all falling en route to the League Cup final while Capital rivals Hearts, Inverness Caley and United were all beaten before Championship winners Rangers in the Scottish Cup final.
It’s a trait which continued in the past season with Stubbs at Hampden to witness Lennon’s side coming within a whisker of making it back-to-back Scottish Cup finals only to lose to a cruel deflection to Aberdeen.
He said: “When I was there our record against Premiership teams was as good as anyone’s and they have carried it on this season. The record against Hearts, what is it six or seven unbeaten, is probably the strongest it has been for a while.
“We were confident last season when we brought them back to Easter Road that we’d win and it was very similar this season.
“I was working for Sky at the semi-final and Hibs were very unlucky. They had a difficult start but again showed character to come back into the game. They made Aberdeen wobble and the game could have gone either way. There’s not many teams who can give Aberdeen a 2-0 start and nearly pull it off.”