Hibs make Scottish Cup No.1 priority – for one day only

Alan Stubbs takes Hibs back to Hampden tomorrow to face Dundee United. Pic: Steve Welsh
Alan Stubbs takes Hibs back to Hampden tomorrow to face Dundee United. Pic: Steve Welsh
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Alan Stubbs has admitted that for one day only promotion won’t be the Easter Road club’s priority as they focus entirely on winning a place in the Scottish Cup final.

The head coach has repeatedly insisted regaining a place in the Premiership is all he wants from this season, describing the Capital outfit’s cup runs as nothing more than a bonus.

But, as his side prepares to face Dundee United at Hampden in tomorrow’s semi-final, Stubbs believes winning the right to face either Celtic or Rangers at the national stadium on May 21 will become the be all and end all for both his players and those at Tannadice who are battling to stave off the increasing likelihood of relegation.

He said: “At 12.15 tomorrow, neither club will have bigger priorities because this will be the most important thing. Promotion is obviously our biggest factor this season amd Mixu Paatelainen’s will be trying to stay in the Premiership. So we have obviously got other priorities.

“But the Scottish Cup becomes number one tomorrow. I don’t think you can look at it in any other way, shape or form.

“Going into this, you can’t prioritise by saying ‘Oh, we’ve got a league game next week’ or ‘this is just another game, if we win, we win, if we don’t, we don’t’. You can’t have that mindset. You want to win every game, whether it is league or cup. Otherwise, I’m afraid you shouldn’t be doing this job.”

Hibs return to Hampden little more than a month after losing the League Cup final to Ross County, but Stubbs believes the memory of that day will make his players determined to leave tomorrow with happier memories. He said: “When you are a player – and I’m still a novice in terms of management – whenever you lose a game of football, you want to make sure the next time you go there is a positive experience.

“That would be in the back of the players’ minds. Whether it is a driving force for them to turn the result around, then the players have to do whatever motivates them the most.

“Whether they think it’s revenge, whether it’s memories of losing that game, they have to prepare and get themselves self-motivated as well as me motivating them. Whichever way you want to address it, you have to make sure you perform on the day.”

Stubbs saw an improvement in his side’s performance earlier in the week even if they did throw away a two-goal lead to leave Falkirk in pole position to claim second place in the Championship table, describing it as their best in a number of weeks as they have endured a miserable run of results, just two wins in their last 11 games.

Five points out of a possible 24 ended their own title hopes a long time ago and, with second place now under threat, Stubbs has been aware of growing unrest among some sections of the Hibs support, leading chief executive Leeann Dempster to voice her unwavering backing for him – not that the former Celtic and Everton defender was surprised by her reaction.

He said: “We’ve got a really good relationship and we know which way we want to take the club. Nothing will break the bond we have, players, staff, Leeann, the chairman [Rod Petrie], everyone. We know what we need to do.

“We speak all the time. Every week. After every game. During the week. All we say is that, at the moment, nothing has changed.”

With goalkeeper Mark Oxley suspended after his booking during the win over Inverness Caley in the previous round, Stubbs admitted he still has to decide whether to play Finnish Under-21 goalkeeper Otso Virtanen, who has had only seven minutes of first-team action, or the more experienced Conrad Logan – a short-term signing – in goal,

He said: “I’ve not really decided yet. Whoever it is going to be, it will be down to what we feel is the right decision on the day. In an ideal world, it would have been good to give them more game time but the only reason we haven’t done that is because our main priority is the league.

“Whoever plays could have a fantastic game without having played a match and we are hoping that’s going to be the case. In fact, I’m hoping he is going to have a quiet game, to be honest.”